Prenuptial Agreements


Trial court had grounds to invalidate post-nuptial settlement agreement on grounds of divorce where evidence demonstrated husband’s history of physical and emotional abuse; wife’s fragile emotional state at the time husband had her execute the agreement, and the lack of opportunity for wife to consult with counsel.

Husband William Lewis appealed from the judgment granted in favor of wife Cameron Lewis. Husband met wife when he hired her to care for his two children; within three weeks the parties were married and wife dropped out of college to become a stay-at-home stepmother. The parties later had a daughter of their own. However, the parties’ relationship later deteriorated, with husband alleging wife suffered from various psychotic disorders, obtaining a protecting from abuse order against wife. After alleging that wife had violated the PFA, wife was incarcerated.

However, evidence was later uncovered that husband was the perpetrator of abuse and was using the PFA as a weapon by inviting wife back into the martial home and then charging her with contempt. A trial court accordingly granted wife a PFA and awarded her exclusive possession of the martial residence and sole custody of the parties’ daughter.

The parties later executed a post0nuptial settlement agreement. Husband’ approached wife about the agreement while she was recuperating in a psychiatric hospital following her suicide attempt that was motivated by husband’s physical and mental abuse. Wife alleged that husband assured her that the agreement would be a fictitious paper trial that he needed to show his employer in order to avoid risking his security clearance. Wife alleged that husband presented her with a copy of the agreement to sign immediately following one of her psychiatric appointments; wife alleged that husband threatened to divorce her and seek custody of the parties’ child if she refused to sign the agreement or sought advice of an attorney. Wife claimed she did not read the agreement before signing it.

Husband then filled the present petition to enforce the agreement, asserting is right to exclusive possession of the martial residence. Wife filed a counter-petition to challenge the validity of the agreement, alleging duress and fraud in the inducement. Following a hearing, the trial court invalidated the agreement on grounds of duress and fraud.

On appeal, husband argues that the record did not support the trial court’s factual findings; alternatively, husband contented that the trial court’s finding did not constitute duress or fraud as a matter of laws. The court rejected husband’s argument and affirmed the trial court’s judgment. The court first noted that the trail court found wife’s testimony “wholly credible” and husband’s testimony “wholly incredible” and misleading. The court noted that it would not reweigh credibility determinations; the court also noted that the trial court’s credibility determination is favor of wife was also based on documentary evidence that corroborated wife’s testimony concerning execution of the settlement agreement and directly contradicted husband’s account.

The court further held that the evidence before the trial court supported finding that the parties’ agreement as invalid on grounds of duress. Specifically, the court noted husband’s past physical, emotional, and financial abuse of wife, including using the judicial system to further his abuse. The court also noted that husband’s intense control over wife’s life, the close proximity of the execution of the agreement to her attempted suicide, and the physical and mental effects of her medications. The court also noted that the evidence supported finding that wife was denied opportunity to consult with counsel.

REF: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, Lewis v. Lewis, PICs Case NO. 02-0682 (Pa. Super. June 12, 2020), 43 PLW 576.

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