A New York Appellate Court issued a widely publicized ruling on February 20, 2013, upholding a lower court’s decision to set aside a prenuptial agreement. The case, Cioffi-Petrakis v. Petrakis, involved a woman who claimed she was coerced into signing a prenuptial agreement four days before her 1998 wedding. The New York Post reported that her multi-millionaire husband threatened to call off the wedding for which her father already paid $40,000.00 if she didn’t sign the agreement. She also claimed that her husband promised to rip it up once they had children (they now have two).
Some have called the court’s decision a landmark ruling because New York has a strong public policy favoring the validity of prenuptial agreements. However, in our opinion there is no change in the law. New York courts have long recognized that an agreement between spouses or prospective spouses may be invalidated if the party challenging the agreement demonstrates that it was the product of fraud, duress, or other inequitable conduct. In the Petrakis case the trial court simply determined that Ms. Cioffi-Petrakis’ claim, that she was fraudulently induced to sign the prenuptial agreement, was credible and supported by the evidence. As the Appellate Court explained, “With respect to the material facts underlying the her claim, the Supreme Court found that her testimony was credible, convincing, unequivocal, and consistent with additional corroborative evidence, and that any’inconsistencies in her testimony related to insignificant matters. By contrast, the Supreme Court found his credibility to be suspect, due in part, to his patent evasiveness.”