Ansin v. Craven-Ansin is an important recent case in Massachusetts. The issue is the validity of the postnuptial agreement and whether it may be specifically enforced. See Fogg v. Fogg, 409 Mass. 531, 536 (1991).
The Massachusetts Supreme Court recent announced its ruling. Here are some opinions by recent news organizations and experts.
Boston Globe: SJC rules postnups have legal weight
Addressing a matter that has long sown doubt among Massachusetts family law specialists, the Supreme Judicial Court said postnuptial agreements that divide financial assets must be scrutinized to make sure they were not negotiated fraudulently or coerced by a spouse with threats of divorce. But if the agreements meet stringent standards, they should be enforced.
“Marital contracts are not the product of classic arm’s-length bargaining, but that does not make them necessarily coercive,’’ Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall wrote on behalf of the seven-member court. “Such contracts may inhibit the dissolution of a marriage or may protect the interests of third parties such as children from a prior relationship.’’
Several states, including Alabama, Louisiana, and Wisconsin, have laws authorizing such agreements, the court said. At least one state, Ohio, forbids them. But many states have not addressed the issue.
Such contracts are uncommon in Massachusetts compared with prenuptial agreements, said divorce lawyers, but that may be partly attributable to uncertainty over whether they would be upheld.
Boston BizJournals: SJC endorses “post-nup” deals
The state’s highest court said in deciding the case of Kenneth S. Ansin of Cheryl A. Craven-Ansin that courts may enforce arrangments governing the post-divorce distribution of property even if those deals are entered into after couples get married. The deals often are called “marital agreements” and are enforced in some other cases.
William Levine on MaritalMediation.com: Ansin V. Craven-Ansin: Good News And Practical Suggestions For Marital Mediation
Ansin presents an opportunity for spouses and mediators to act responsibly and sensibly in the effort to save marriages, and otherwise to curb the ravages of divorce litigation. However, to do so without observing its cautionary aspects, and those of other cases can disserve the public that is our market, and roil, rather than calm, the waters at the time of divorce if that event must come. A process that results in avoiding a contested divorce is no less good a professional service than a saved marriage, though clearly the less desired outcome. At the same time, a sloppy process that leads to a poorly conceived agreement invites a painful form of double jeopardy for divorcing spouses: a litigated challenge to the agreement and a statutory battle over finance, if successful. Every mediator, lawyer and client ought to read and re-read Ansin; then read it again. The four cautions above will help to crystallize how mediators may help, and not hurt, but there is no full substitute for the S.J.C’s entire body of thinking on the subject.
John Fiske in Mediate.com: Marital Agreements Upheld in Massachusetts
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts on July 16, 2010 answered in Ansin v. Craven-Ansin the long-deferred question of whether a marital agreement should be recognized. The answer is “yes.” Their reasoning centers around the spouses’ freedom to contract, “permitting the parties to arrange their financial affairs as they best see fit.”
Stephen McDonough in DivorceCollaborative: Massachusetts Marital Agreement Case Decided
Most of you have heard of a prenuptial agreement since they are frequently discussed in the media, especially during reports about divorces of the rich and famous. Although not as well-known, postnuptial (also known as marital or post-marital) agreements also exist. A postnuptial agreement is entered into by a married couple to set forth the details of their settlement in the event of a divorce, but are drafted before the time of divorce, sometimes in an attempt to actually improve a marriage. A marital agreement is different from a separation agreement (also sometimes referred to as a divorce agreement) that is drafted for the purpose of getting a couple divorced. Thus, a post-nup or (post)marital agreement serves the same general purposes of a premarital agreement, but is signed after uttering “I do” instead of before.
YourFamilyMatters Law Blog: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court permits postnuptial agreements in Ansin v. Craven-Ansin
Most importantly, the Court held that a postnuptial agreement must be “fair and reasonable at the time of the execution and at the time of divorce”. This means that the postnuptial agreement must be more like a separation agreement (one made at the time of divorce) than a prenuptial agreement (one made before the marriage). An earlier case, DeMatteo v. DeMatteo, 436 Mass. 18 (2002), had provided a lesser standard to prenuptial agreements than separation agreements, stating that in order to be enforceable, prenuptial agreements they must not be “unconsciounable” and must not strip a spouse of viritual of of his or her marital rights. As another protection to the contracting spouse against whom the contract is being enforced, it is the spouse seeking enforcement that has the burden to satisfy the court as to all these criteria.
You can download the video of the oral argument on the Suffolk University Law School website:
Read the Ansin v Craven Ansin slip opinion.
Learn more about postnuptial agreements.