Undisclosed Asset Invalidates Prenuptial Agreement in Brentwood, Tennessee Divorce: Walker v. Walker

February 26, 2020 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Husband and Wife entered their marriage with considerable separate property.

Husband and Wife dated almost immediately after he ended a long-term relationship with Ex-Girlfriend, whose continued presence in Husband’s life caused ongoing friction

Before their marriage, they negotiated and finalized a prenuptial agreement. As part of this process, both parties had to prepare and exchange lists of their separate assets, including approximate values. Both parties were represented by counsel. Wife’s attorney drafted the agreement.

The parties exchanged their lists of separate property, and the lists were attached as exhibits to the prenuptial agreement.

A few months after the wedding, while working on Husband’s property taxes, Wife discovered that Husband owned a condominium with Ex-Girlfriend. Husband did not include the condominium on his list of separate property or otherwise disclose his ownership interest to Wife before the marriage. For the sake of the marriage, she chose not to act at that time.

Years later, Husband and Ex-Girlfriend sold the condominium with Wife’s participation.

After 19 years of marriage, Wife sought a divorce.

The trial was bifurcated, with the first issue being the validity and enforceability of the prenuptial agreement.

Husband denied deliberately hiding his interest in the condominium, characterizing it as a mistake, and a minor one at that.

Property records showed Husband and Ex-Girlfriend purchased the condominium as tenants-in-common two weeks before he proposed to Wife. Husband also cosigned a promissory note. He claimed he didn’t understand what he signed, despite having participated in dozens of real estate closings as a real estate developer. He testified he never read the documents he signed at closings, believing it to be a waste of time because he could not understand them.

Tennessee prenuptial agreement

Wife testified that when Husband proposed, he assured her he was no longer in contact with Ex-Girlfriend. She was shocked to learn he had purchased a condominium with Ex-Girlfriend a few weeks before his proposal.

When Wife confronted Husband, he admitted he kept silent because he feared her reaction to the news. Wife said she would never have signed the prenuptial agreement had she known Husband owned a condominium with Ex-Girlfriend.

The trial court found that Husband deliberately concealed that he purchased a condominium with Ex-Girlfriend shortly before proposing to Wife. While Husband’s failure to disclose the condominium affected both knowledgeability and good faith components, the trial court based its ruling solely on good faith. Because Husband acted in bad faith, the trial court ruled the prenuptial agreement was unenforceable.

Husband appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Prenuptial agreements are enforceable in Tennessee if the party seeking enforcement proves the spouses entered the agreement freely, knowledgeably, in good faith, and without duress or undue influence on the other spouse.

Once those requirements are satisfied, Tennessee courts interpret and enforce prenuptial agreements like other contracts.

The good faith element arises from the confidential relationship between prospective spouses. Unlike arm’s-length transactions, good faith between an engaged couple requires more than honesty. The highest fiduciary duty is required. This high standard of conduct means that fraud, oppression, or deception is more easily established.

Good faith may be established by evidence that the other spouse was fully informed of the nature, results, and consequences of the agreement, including every circumstance likely to influence the spouse’s mind or feelings about executing the agreement.

The Court agreed that Husband failed to meet that high standard here:

Undisputedly, Husband failed to disclose the condominium he owned with [Ex-Girlfriend] before execution of the antenuptial agreement. While Husband insisted that his omission was an honest mistake, the trial court did not find his testimony credible. We find no basis in this record to overturn that credibility finding. Husband was aware of Wife’s feelings about [Ex-Girlfriend]. He conceded that [Ex-Girlfriend] had caused problems in his relationship with Wife especially before the marriage. The evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s finding that at the time the antenuptial agreement was negotiated and executed, Husband knew he owned a condominium with his former girlfriend and deliberately withheld this fact from Wife.

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Wife testified that, had she known Husband had purchased a condominium with [Ex-Girlfriend] shortly before his proposal, she would not have executed the antenuptial agreement. So while Wife agreed at trial that she understood the meaning and effect of the antenuptial agreement, she lacked the full understanding requisite to a finding of good faith.

Husband attempts to skirt his failure to meet his evidentiary burden by relying on the language of the antenuptial agreement itself. But the parties cannot avoid the statutory requirements by contract. The proponent of an antenuptial agreement must prove all the statutory elements have been met. Without proof of good faith, the antenuptial agreement is unenforceable.

* * * * *

According to Husband, Wife ratified the antenuptial agreement by acquiescing in the sale of the condominium to a third party, failing to challenge the enforceability of the antenuptial agreement sooner, and asking Husband to voluntarily terminate the antenuptial agreement. None of these actions evidence an intent to affirm the antenuptial agreement.

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Husband does not cite any Tennessee cases that apply ratification to enforce an otherwise unenforceable antenuptial agreement, and we have found none. Given the statute governing antenuptial agreements and the public policy of this State, we question whether postnuptial ratification may save an otherwise invalid agreement.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment that the prenuptial agreement was unenforceable because Husband failed to prove it was entered into in good faith.

Walker v. Walker (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, January 31, 2020).

Undisclosed Asset Invalidates Prenuptial Agreement in Brentwood, Tennessee Divorce: Walker v. Walker was last modified: February 24th, 2020 by K.O. Herston

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