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With a postnuptial agreement, the marriage itself cannot act as sufficient consideration because past consideration cannot support a current promise. Therefore, there must be consideration flowing to both parties as part of a postnuptial agreement.
The parties, Cynthia Lee Bratton (Ms. Bratton) and Michael Wayne Bratton (Dr. Bratton), were married on June 26, 1982. Ms. Bratton testified that prior to their marriage, she and her husband discussed the fact that she would forgo a career as a dentist to stay at home and raise a family if Dr. Bratton would provide one-half of his income to her in the event of a divorce. No written agreement was ever entered into prior to the marriage. One year after the parties married, Ms. Bratton again voiced an interest in dental school to her husband, at which time Dr. Bratton offered to formalize their prior agreement if she would give up the pursuit of a career. Ms. Bratton testified that it was her husband who had the agreement prepared by an attorney and then brought it to her to sign. Dr. Bratton testified that there had been no discussion of his wife's interest in dental school prior to their marriage or at any time during the marriage. Instead, he testified that one year into their marriage, Ms. Bratton told him that the doctors with whom she worked warned her that he was likely to leave her once he graduated from medical school and that she needed a legally binding agreement to protect herself from that possibility. After arguing about this with his wife, Dr. Bratton handwrote the letter of July 1983, promising not to leave her and promising that if he did, she would get one-half of his property and future earnings. Dr. Bratton testified that it was Ms. Bratton who contacted an attorney to have the agreement drafted and brought it home for him to sign. At first he refused, but then he relented when she threatened to leave him if he did not sign it. Both parties testified that at the time the agreement was signed, they were not having any marital difficulties. On March 15, 2000, Ms. Bratton filed for divorce. Dr. Bratton filed a motion for partial summary judgment to have the Property Settlement Agreement declared invalid for lack of consideration. The trial court granted the motion in part. The court found that the agreement was severable and that the portion of the agreement relating to the division of property was valid and enforceable, but that the portion regarding the support was invalid for want of consideration.The trial court granted the divorce to Ms. Bratton based on inappropriate marital conduct on the part of Dr. Bratton in the nature of adultery. Ms. Bratton was designated the primary residential parent of the parties' two minor children. Dr. Bratton was directed to pay $3,237.00 per month in child support based upon the Child Support Guidelines, Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-5-101 (2001), and the court's finding that his annual gross income was $551,521.00. The court also directed Dr. Bratton to pay $1000.00 per month per child into an educational trust fund. Marital property and marital debt were divided equally between the parties. The court awarded Ms. Bratton alimony in futuro in the amount of $10,500.00 per month until her death or remarriage. Both parties appealed. The Court of Appeals found that there was consideration for both parts of the postnuptial agreement, but that the whole agreement was in violation of public policy. However, the Court of Appeals affirmed the outcome of the lower court, finding that the evidence did not preponderate against the trial court's division of marital property and marital debt. The court also affirmed the award of alimony in futuro to the wife. Both parties appealed. Ms. Bratton argued that the agreement entered into by the parties was valid and should be enforced, thereby obligating Dr. Bratton to pay her one-half of his after-tax income. Dr. Bratton argued that the lower court properly found the agreement to be unenforceable as to support, but that the court erred in awarding alimony in futuro instead of rehabilitative alimony.
Was the postnuptial agreement entered into by the parties in this case valid and enforceable?
The court held that postnuptial agreements were not contrary to public policy so long as there was consideration for the agreement, they were knowledgeably entered into, and there was no evidence of fraud, coercion, or duress. However, the agreement between the parties in this case was invalid, because it lacked adequate consideration. The court also granted the husband's application for permission to appeal to determine whether the trial court erred in awarding alimony in futuro instead of rehabilitative alimony. The court held that the trial court properly considered all of the relevant statutory factors and that its award of alimony was not an abuse of discretion.