Joanna Grossman on Ansin v. Craven-Ansin

Here is another summary on the Ansin case, from law professor Joanna Grossman.

Here are the facts of the case the SJC recently resolved: Kenneth Ansin and Cheryl Craven-Ansin married in 1985. At the time, like ninety-five percent of couples entering into a first marriage, they did not enter into a prenuptial agreement, nor did they make any other attempt to privately determine the financial consequences that would ensue, should they divorce. Nineteen years and two children later, however, they entered into a written agreement “settling all the rights and obligations arising from their marital relationship” in the event of divorce.
This was not a so-called “separation agreement.” A separation agreement is executed when a couple splits up and intends to divorce. (Such agreements are very common, are generally enforceable, and control the economic consequences of many, if not most divorces today.) To the contrary, both Kenneth and Cheryl testified that they signed this agreement in 2004 with the hope that their marriage would continue. This postnuptial, or marital, agreement was supposed to make their marriage stronger. At least, that’s what the husband claimed at they time they signed it.

When the agreement was executed, the couple had been having marital problems since the prior year. They had gone to marriage counseling. But early in 2004, Kenneth told Cheryl that he felt uncertain about her commitment to the relationship, and that he “needed” her to sign a marital agreement if the marriage was to survive. She says that his request for an agreement caused her tremendous stress and made her “physically ill.” Some time after his request was made, they separated for six weeks. They then reconciled, once she agreed to enter into the postnuptial agreement.

Under the terms of the agreement, in the event of divorce, Cheryl was to receive a lump sum payment of $5 million, plus 30% of any increase in their marital property from the time of agreement until the time of divorce. Kenneth also agreed to allow her to stay in the marital home for one year following any divorce, at his expense, and to pay her medical-insurance premiums until she died or remarried. The parties essentially waived any other claim to money or property arising out of their marriage.…

And, although Cheryl probably did bargain for less than she could have received in divorce court, the SJC also concluded that the substantive terms of the agreement were fair and reasonable. It pointed to the fact that, under the agreement, she received not only a significant fixed payment, but also a share of any appreciation. And if the couple’s assets had gone down in value, it noted, she was protected against any such loss. Given all the relevant factors, the court concluded that the agreement could be specifically enforced against the wife: In other words, she would have to take her $5 million, her health-insurance premiums, and her housing expenses and go.

Joanna Grossman, a FindLaw columnist, is a professor of law and John DeWitt Gregory Research Scholar at Hofstra University.

Learn more about postnuptial agreements.

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