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When entered into voluntarily by parties who are aware of the effect of the agreement, a premarital waiver of spousal support does not offend contemporary public policy. Such agreements are, therefore, permitted under Cal. Fam. Code §1612(a)(7), which authorizes the parties to contract in a premarital agreement regarding any other matter, including their personal rights and obligations, not in violation of public policy or a statute imposing a criminal penalty.
Petitioner husband, Barry I. Fireman, and respondent wife, Candace Pendleton, executed a premarital agreement which provided that both parties waived, in the event of a dissolution of the marriage, all rights to any type of spousal support from the other. The agreement acknowledged that each party had been represented by independent counsel in the negotiation and preparation of the agreement, that counsel had advised each of the meaning and legal consequences of the agreement, and that each party had read and understood the agreement and its legal consequences. The couple separated in 1995, and in April 1996, respondent filed a petition for dissolution of the marriage and subsequently sought spousal support. Petitioner sought to strike the pleading seeking support or to have a separate trial on the validity of the prenuptial agreement. The court ruled that the waiver of spousal support was against public policy and thus was unenforceable, noted that the couple had maintained a lifestyle in the high $ 20,000 to $ 32,000 per month range, and ordered petitioner to pay temporary spousal support of $ 8,500 per month. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.
Under the circumstances, was the waiver of spousal support unenforceable as against public policy?
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal, holding that the trial court erred in ruling that the parties' waiver of spousal support was unenforceable as against public policy. According to the Court, the common law policy, based on assumptions that dissolution of marriage was contrary to public policy and that premarital waivers of spousal support may promote dissolution, was anachronistic. When entered into voluntarily by parties who were aware of the effect of the agreement, a premarital waiver of spousal support did not offend contemporary public policy. Such agreements were, therefore, permitted under Fam. Code, § 1612, subd. (a)(7), which authorized the parties to contract in a premarital agreement regarding any matter, including their personal rights and obligations, that did not violate public policy or a statute imposing a criminal penalty. The Court held that no public policy was violated by permitting enforcement of a waiver of spousal support executed by intelligent, well-educated persons, each of whom was self-sufficient in property and earning ability, and both of whom had the advice of counsel regarding their rights and obligations as marital partners at the time they executed the waiver.