Challenging a prenuptial agreement in Tennessee
This blog has written before about the use of prenuptial agreements in Tennessee to protect a person’s assets from an unfavorable distribution in the event of a divorce. Tennessee’s divorce code expressly states that such agreements are enforceable and binding upon the courts if certain conditions are met. What happens, however, if those conditions cannot be satisfied?
Tennessee law states that a prenuptial agreement shall be enforced if “in the discretion of [the] court” the agreement was agreed to by the spouses “freely, knowledgeably and in good faith and without exertion of duress or undue influence upon either spouse.” While this language appears to make a prenuptial agreement ironclad, a careful reading provides a method for mounting a challenge to such an agreement.
The burden of proving that the agreement was negotiated and signed in good faith falls upon the spouse who is seeking to enforce the agreement. A spouse who is attempting to escape the effect of one or more terms of the agreement may argue that the enforcing spouse withheld information about assets, coerced the resisting spouse in to signing the agreement or committed some other act that constitutes “duress or undue influence.”
Additionally, the statute commits enforcement of a prenuptial agreement to “the discretion of [the] court.” This language allows a court substantial leeway in interpreting the terms of a prenuptial agreement and in determining whether literal enforcement of those terms violates the policy expressed in the statute.
Any person facing a divorce after having signed a prenuptial agreement and who believes that the agreement was obtained by the other spouse unlawfully, say, by hiding information about bank accounts, will find significant benefit in a consultation with a knowledgeable divorce attorney. Such an attorney can provide an analysis of the situation and an estimate of the likelihood of preventing enforcement of the prenuptial agreement.