Law School Case Brief
Mallen v. Mallen - 280 Ga. 43, 622 S.E.2d 812 (2005)
A prenuptial agreement is enforceable so long as the spouse seeking to set aside such an agreement has a general idea of the character and extent of the financial assets and income of the other. Indeed, absent fraud or misrepresentation, there appears to be a duty to make some inquiry to ascertain the full nature and extent of the financial resources of the other.
Catherine (Wife) and Peter (Husband) Mallen had lived together unmarried for about four years when Wife got pregnant in 1985. While she was at a clinic to terminate the pregnancy, Husband called to ask her not to have the abortion and to marry him; Wife agreed to both requests. A short time later, nine or ten days before their planned wedding, Husband asked Wife to sign a prenuptial agreement prepared by his attorney. Wife contends Husband told her the agreement was just a formality and he would always take care of her. She took the agreement to an attorney whom she claims Husband paid, who advised her that he did not have time to fully examine it in the days remaining before the wedding. Wife did not consult another attorney or postpone the wedding, but instead, Wife spoke and met with Husband and his counsel about the agreement more than once. She agreed to sign it after a life insurance benefit was increased and the alimony provisions were modified to provide for increases for each year of marriage. The agreement provided that in the event of a divorce, Wife would receive a basic alimony amount to be adjusted for the number of years of marriage, and assets would belong to whomever owned the property originally or received it during the marriage. At the time the agreement was executed, Wife had a high school education and was working as a restaurant hostess, while Husband had a college degree and owned and operated a business. Wife had a net worth of approximately $10,000 and Husband's net worth at the time of the agreement's execution was at least $8,500,000. The record shows that Husband's net worth, as of 2002, appeared to be approximately $22,700,000. After 18 years of marriage and the birth of four children, Husband filed an action for divorce in 2003 and sought to enforce the prenuptial agreement. The trial court held the prenuptial agreement enforceable and incorporated that holding in its final judgment, ruling in accordance with the agreement that Wife was entitled to $2,900 per month in alimony for four years and Husband was entitled to all the assets with which he entered the marriage and all assets accumulated during the marriage. This appeal is from that judgment.
Was the prenuptial agreement enforceable?
The Supreme Court of Georgia held Husband and Wife had no confidential relation that would have relieved Wife of a duty to verify the prenuptial contract, as they were not married, so she had to verify the contract's terms, and Husband's alleged statement that the contract was a mere formality showed no fraud as Wife could see from the contract what her rights were if they divorced. His alleged promise to take care of her was no basis for a fraud claim as it promised future action and was not actionable. Her free will was not overcome by a "threat" not to marry her if she did not sign the contract as she freely required changes in the contract. Her pregnancy did not make his insistence on the contract duress as she was willing to end the pregnancy. While his financial statement attached to the contract did not state income, it showed he was wealthy, and she had lived with him for four years and knew from their standard of living that he had significant income, so there was not a nondisclosure of material facts making the contract unenforceable. Foreseeable disparities in the parties' financial status and business experience did not make the contract unconscionable.
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