Facts: Husband and Wife began an Internet courtship. At the time, Wife resided in Colombia, South America, and Husband resided in Florida.
Two months into their courtship, Husband traveled to Colombia to meet Wife for the first time. Because Wife does not speak or read English, and Husband does not speak or read Spanish, the parties used one of Wife’s neighbors to interpret so they could communicate.
It was during this first in-person meeting that they decided to get married.
After returning to Florida, Husband hired an attorney to draft a prenuptial agreement. When Husband returned to Colombia to get married, he presented the prenuptial agreement to Wife on the day before or the day of the wedding. Because the agreement was written in English, Wife asked a young man to read the agreement and explain it to her.
Without the advice of an attorney, Wife signed the agreement and married Husband.
After first living to Florida, Husband and Wife moved to Tennessee.
Three and a half years after marrying, the parties separated and divorce proceedings began.
Wife contested the enforceability of the prenuptial agreement.
After a trial, the trial court awarded Wife the divorce, found the prenuptial agreement unenforceable, divided the marital property, and ordered Husband to pay Wife transitional alimony and a portion of Wife’s attorney’s fees.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
In Tennessee, antenuptial or prenuptial agreements are favored by public policy. Courts are statutorily required to uphold such agreements provided they have been entered into by such spouses freely, knowledgeably and in good faith and without exertion of duress or undue influence upon either spouse.
The critical test in determining the validity of premarital agreements is whether there was fraud or overreaching on one side or whether the challenging spouse did not have adequate knowledge of the property and income of the parties at the time the agreement was reached.
After reviewing the record, the Court concluded:
Husband unilaterally procured the antenuptial agreement and presented it to Wife either the day before or the day of the wedding ceremony, with no prior discussion of Husband’s intent or the agreement’s purpose. Moreover, although Husband knew Wife could not speak or read English, he did not provide her with a Spanish version or advise her to consult an attorney. Moreover, the interpreter at the parties’ wedding ceremony was unable to translate the document for Wife in its entirety. The trial court also found Husband’s allegation that Wife entered into the agreement knowledgeably because he did not mislead Wife and because she could have translated the English version into Spanish over the internet “not acceptable.” In expressly rejecting Husband’s allegation, the trial court noted that Wife could not speak or read English, was not sophisticated in legal or financial matters, and received little information as to the contents and purpose of the antenuptial agreement….
After a careful examination of the circumstances surrounding the antenuptial agreement, it is clear that Wife did not enter into the antenuptial agreement knowledgeably, in good faith, or have adequate knowledge of the marital property and income of the parties at the time the agreement was reached.
Accordingly, the trial court’s ruling that the prenuptial agreement is invalid and unenforceable was affirmed.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family Law Attorney.