Marital Agreements

Jacobs Berger

Marital Agreement Attorneys in Morris County

Address financial rights, responsibilities, and obligations as your relationship moves forward

Some couples—whether married, soon-to-be-married, or in a committed domestic partnership—find that establishing particular assets or businesses as separate in a marriage can help them feel more confident in the protection of those assets.

Although discussing finances or who has medical power of attorney isn’t romantic, having these foundational conversations can help couples feel more confident in their relationship.

The Morris County marital agreements lawyers at Jacobs Berger, LLC have years of experience working with couples on all kinds of marital documents including:

  • Prenuptial agreements
  • Postnuptial agreements
  • Mid-marriage/mid-nuptial agreements
  • Palimony agreements

Prenuptial Agreements

It can pay to plan ahead.

Prenuptial agreements, also known as “marital agreements,” are entered into by two people who plan to marry soon. Because the individuals aren’t married at the time, courts typically look at prenuptial agreements as a business arrangement or a contract.

If done correctly, this kind of agreement is legally binding and enforceable.

Although prenuptial agreements are generally known for protecting the financial assets of one or both individuals from being absorbed into the marriage, they can also be used to specify plans for spousal support or children from a previous marriage, as well as how certain assets should be allocated in case of one spouse’s death.

The following are common reasons to seek a prenuptial agreement:

  • You’ve been married before.
  • You have children from another relationship.
  • You own your own business or own a share of a family business.
  • The person you’re planning to marry has substantial student loans or other debt.
  • It’s important to you that you preserve your financial privacy.
  • You’re entering the marriage with far more assets than your future spouse.
  • You believe you’ll receive a substantial inheritance.
  • You’re the beneficiary of a trust.
  • You expect to earn notably more than your partner.

It’s important to consult a marital agreements lawyer in New Jersey when drafting your prenuptial agreement.

There are two reasons for this. First, you want to make sure the language is legally clear and accurate so that the agreement can be upheld in court, if needed. After all, this is a legal document!

The other reason is that while prenuptial agreements can address many areas, there are certain things they can’t do—including asking someone to act illegally or trying to avoid carrying out your legal obligations, like child support or child custody. Nor are these agreements something you can just casually slip into conversation with your partner and ask them to take a peek at and sign.

The following important steps are required for any prenuptial agreement:

  • Both people must sign the document, and it must be notarized
  • Each person must have independent legal counsel, such as having a marital agreements lawyer read over the document—or explicitly choose not to exercise their rights to legal advice
  • All assets must be fully disclosed
    • Note: If assets are withheld or improperly valued, this deception can seriously jeopardize the validity of the entire prenuptial agreement.
  • The agreement must be voluntary
  • Neither party can use coercion, duress, or deception to get the other to sign
  • Both parties must also have enough time to consider the agreement prior to marriage

While prenuptial agreements may feel tricky to talk about, there’s value in having clear conversations about finances before entering a marriage, and in the event of divorce, having such an agreement can make the process swifter, less contentious, and more private—all while still protecting your business, assets, or the vacation home that’s been passed down in your family.

Prenuptial agreements can be modified. However, the process for modification is much like the initial drafting. Both parties must fully understand and sign any modifications, and they can’t be under any kind of emotional pressure to do so.

At Jacobs Berger, LLC, our marital agreements lawyers have the experience, legal knowledge, and honest counsel you need for drafting, modifying, or contesting the legality of a prenuptial agreement.

Postnuptial Agreements

Postnuptial agreements are signed after a couple has gotten married. They tend to address the same concerns as prenuptial agreements, such as preserving certain assets under individual ownership.

Postnuptial agreements tend to be much more difficult to enforce. The Court of New Jersey recognizes that complex emotional and relationship dynamics often exist between married spouses. This means one party can influence the other into signing documents that aren’t in their best interests.

For instance, someone might sign a postnuptial agreement that is financially unfair because they want to appease a more dominant spouse or believe their compliance will help keep the marriage together.

If the court believes one party felt pressured or was coerced into signing a postnuptial agreement, that agreement will most likely not be considered legally valid.

The standard for ensuring that a postnuptial agreement wasn’t made under duress—and is therefore legally binding and enforceable—is much higher than with a prenuptial agreement. However, by taking the right steps, it’s certainly possible to do.

Our marital agreements lawyers can make sure that your postnuptial agreement is:

  • Fair to both parties
  • Financially accurate
  • Entered into without any suspicion of manipulation or foul play

Conversely, if you felt pressured or forced into signing a postnuptial agreement with your spouse, our family law attorneys can help you contest the validity of the agreement—and ensure that your rights and interests are properly protected.

Mid-Marriage/Mid-Nuptial Agreements

By definition, mid-marriage agreements are financial agreements made during a marriage. In practice, parties do this when they’ve been separated, when divorce proceedings have been filed or contemplated or when they’re looking to reconcile but want some sort of agreement in place. These types of agreements are often discounted by the Court and can be hard to enforce.

Because of the complex dynamics of any intimate, multi-year relationship—especially one where one spouse may be experiencing doubts about the marriage—mid-marriage agreements can be ripe for one spouse to pressure the other into something they don’t want.

In New Jersey, the courts are very aware of this possibility and look at what was happening in the marriage when the agreement was signed. If it’s determined that one party felt pressured into signing the document, then it will be considered unenforceable in the event that the marriage ends.

For your mid-marriage agreement to be legally valid, it must be crafted with the utmost care and honesty from both parties.

Working with the advice of a marital agreements lawyer is strongly recommended.

Agreements for Unmarried Couples

For many reasons, some couples may prefer to live together in a committed relationship without marrying.

While you can seek a registered domestic partnership in New Jersey, having signed, legal agreements around finances, children, or medical care can go a long way toward providing you with the legally enforceable rights you want as a couple.

We’ll discuss financial cohabitation agreements below, but non-financial agreements may be relevant to you and your partner if:

  • One or both of you wish to allow the other to make medical decisions for you, in the event that you’re incapacitated and unable to do so yourself
  • Other instances where you may want to give your partner power of attorney
  • If one of you has children from a previous relationship or adoption and wants to create a legal document that could influence (but not determine) the outcome of a child custody case
  • If you want to put your partner on your health plan

For any of the reasons above, it may make sense to talk with a family law attorney to safeguard rights and protections for your non-marital relationship.

Palimony Agreements

Palimony agreements, sometimes known as cohabitation agreements, are financial agreements entered into by an unmarried couple.

They typically address financial issues, such as providing support and economic security for a dependent partner. Without such an agreement, one partner could not pursue any form of financial support from the other if the relationship came to an end.

Likewise, if you own property together, a palimony agreement can help clarify how ownership would be meted out in the event of a breakup.

Much like marital agreements, certain important steps must be taken with palimony agreements to ensure they’re legally enforceable. They must be in writing and signed by both parties—with both people retaining independent legal counsel or expressly waiving their rights to such counsel.

Financial assets must be fully disclosed and neither person can be deceived or pressured into signing.

While palimony agreements are agreements of rights and responsibilities among unmarried couples, it’s strongly recommended that you seek legal advice from a marital agreements lawyer to ensure that your agreement is properly written and executed so that it’s legally valid and enforceable.

Reconciliation Agreements

Every relationship has its own complexities and dynamics, and there’s no set trajectory for a marriage to follow.

Reconciliation agreements are financial agreements typically used in relationships where the couple began to seek a divorce or dissolution of a civil union—but ultimately decided they didn’t want to separate.

In Morris County and the rest of New Jersey, the courts believe a marriage should be repaired when possible, so they view reconciliation agreements favorably.

Note that these agreements need to lay out all the substantial marital disputes that were leading the couple to seek divorce and how the issues will be addressed through actionable steps.

Reconciliation agreements may also be used even when the legal process of divorce or dissolution hasn’t yet begun.

While there’s no pending legal process being averted here, couples may still find a reconciliation agreement helpful to clarify the division of financial assets in their marriage in case of divorce. Reconciliation agreements can’t address issues determined by preset legal guidelines, such as child custody and child support. However, the terms contained within an Agreement may impact these areas, so it’s important to have advice when crafting and signing any document.

While these documents can go a long way toward clarifying individual and joint financial assets, they must be legally sound and enforceable to ever have an effect.

Contesting a Marital Agreement

Marital agreements can be contested in New Jersey if certain conditions weren’t met when the document was signed.

Any of the following can be reasons to contest a marital agreement:

  • If it tries to establish child custody or child support. The state of New Jersey has set considerations for how these matters must be resolved—and they can’t be overridden by a marital agreement.
  • The agreement wasn’t voluntary, meaning one partner or spouse felt pressured by the other to sign. The courts view this risk as especially likely in agreements made once the couple was already married.
  • If the agreement can be considered “unconscionable,” meaning that it’s deeply unfair or significantly benefits one partner at the expense of the other.
  • If one or both parties didn’t fully disclose all financial assets or debts.
  • If one or both parties didn’t have an attorney provide legal counsel—and didn’t expressly waive their rights to legal counsel.

Marital agreements can include prenuptial, postnuptial, mid-marriage, reconciliation, palimony, and other agreements between unmarried couples.

The grounds for challenging any of these agreements generally fall into the categories above, with courts viewing agreements made by already-married couples as most ripe for inter-relationship pressure and emotional leveraging.

If you’re wondering about the legal validity and enforceability of your marital agreement, we recommend talking with a marital agreements lawyer.

Contact our experienced attorneys today!

At Jacobs Berger, LLC, our family law attorneys have extensive experience in working with couples to draft, enforce, and contest marital agreements of all kinds across New Jersey.

As marital agreements lawyers, we seek constructive solutions to family law issues that protect the stability of your relationships with your partner and children—as well as your family’s finances.

We’ll always work toward creative solutions to maintain the foundation of your relationships and financial security. We seek resolutions that fairly protect your legal rights, finances, and your family’s future. Contact us for a strategic planning session.