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In re Marriage of Bonds - 24 Cal. 4th 1, 99 Cal. Rptr. 2d 252, 5 P.3d 815 (2000)

Rule:

In California, a premarital agreement generally has been considered to be enforceable as a contract; however, when there is proof of fraud, constructive fraud, duress, or undue influence, the contract is not enforceable.

Facts:

Prior to their marriage, the parties entered into a written premarital agreement in which each party waived any interest in the earnings and acquisitions of the other party during marriage. In a subsequent dispute, the trial court held that the agreement was valid, but the appellate court reversed and held that the premarital agreement was involuntary because the wife lacked independent counsel, determining she had not waived counsel effectively, and concluding evidence needed to be subjected to strict judicial scrutiny to determine voluntariness of agreement. The husband sought review.

Issue:

Does the absence of an independent counsel on the part of the wife render a premarital agreement invalid?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court reversed and held that the wife failed to meet burden of showing premarital agreement was involuntary, even though she was not represented by independent counsel, absent the presence of other factors including evidence indicating coercion or lack of knowledge. The court held that lack of independent counsel alone was not reason to subject voluntariness determination to strict scrutiny as the wife did not forgo separate legal advice out of ignorance. Instead, she declined to invoke her interests under the community property law because she agreed, for her own reasons, that respondent's and her earnings and acquisitions after marriage should be separate property.

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