The Importance of Premarital Agreements

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a premarital agreement is an “agreement that is made between a couple before marriage with provisions for property disposal should they separate for divorce.” These agreements have not always been enforced by Maryland, but in 1984, The Court of Appeals ruled that premarital agreements and postnuptial agreements would be recognized. John Fader II & Richard Gilbert, Maryland Family Law § 13-2 (Lexis 2006) (citing Frey v. Frey, 298 Md. 552, 471 A.2d 705 (1984).

Obtaining a premarital agreement can be helpful in the event that you and your spouse decide to divorce because both parties have already agreed on the majority of the issue that need to be resolved. Premarital agreements can cover alimony as well as property division. The one thing that a premarital agreement does not cover is child custody or child support.
Once a premarital agreement is executed, there are additional steps a couple can decide to take after being married. A couple may want to consider ratifying their premarital agreement. Ratification is the acceptance or confirmation that an agreement was signed. Ratification assists in situations where there are disputes as to whether or not the premarital agreement is enforceable and helps to reduce either party’s chances of the other party bringing them to court on grounds that the premarital agreement is invalid.
If you are interested in ratifying your premarital agreement, it is wise to seek the advice of an attorney. The following are two of the ways in which premarital agreements can be ratified.

o By conduct:
In Schutterle v. Schutterle, the parties had an agreement that contained waivers of each spouse’s interest in the other’s real property. When the wife sold her own real property during the marriage, and treated all of the proceeds as her own property, the court found that her conduct was sufficient to ratify the agreement. 260 N.W. 2d 341 (1977).

o Postnuptial agreements:
A postnuptial agreement is one that the parties execute after they are married, but is focused on the same issues as a premarital agreement: alimony and property division. A postnuptial agreement can “reinforce the validity” of a premarital agreement. It can also minimize any concerns that the parties have about their premarital agreement. Paul S. Leinoff & Natalie S. Lemos, The PERILS OF A PRENUP, First Do No Harm – to Your client or Yourself, Family Advocate, (Winter 2011).

Premarital agreements can be a very effective and useful tool if drafted, executed and ratified correctly.