Two days before the parties were married in February, 2011, they executed a prenuptial agreement. In it the wife accepted an agreed-upon maintenance provision. The husband commenced a divorce action in 2019. The wife counterclaimed, seeking an award of maintenance and setting a judgment aside the agreement as invalid.
The husband moved for summary judgment requesting the court deem the agreement valid. The wife opposed the husband’s motion and cross-moved for an award of temporary maintenance and counsel fees. Acting Clinton County Supreme Court Justice Keith M. Bruno partially granted the husband’s motion and dismissed the wife’s second counterclaim disputing the validity of the agreement. Justice Bruno also denied her cross-motion seeking temporary maintenance.
In its June 9, 2022 decision in Spiegel v. Spiegel, the Appellate Division, Third Department, reversed, finding various issues of fact raised by the circumstances surrounding the execution of the agreement that precluded an award of summary judgment. The court reported the wife’s allegations concerning the husband’s controlling conduct leading to the execution of the prenuptial agreement. The Court concluded:
We find that the foregoing facts, if established, raise issues concerning whether the wife was meaningfully represented during the abbreviated negotiations, and also raise an inference that the husband did not intend on engaging in a good faith negotiation of the agreement from the outset, which , if true, would be sufficient to establish overreaching on his part.
The Court also found that the wife was improperly denied temporary maintenance, invalidating the maintenance provision of the agreement for failing to comply with the requirements of Domestic Relations Law former §236 (B) (5-a) (f).
At the time that the parties entered into the agreement in February, 2011, former Domestic Relations Law §236 (B) (5-a) (f) required that any agreement concerning temporary maintenance in which the parties deviated from the presumptive formula award was required to include language advising the parties of the amount of that award. Further the agreement was required to include the reasons that the parties had deviated from the payment of that amount. In this regard, the language was “virtually identical” to similar provisions governing agreements for child support. The court noted that in those cases, the failure to include the “‘statutory catechisms'” rendered the support provision invalid.
Here, the parties’ agreement clearly deviated from the presumptive award of temporary maintenance, and the maintenance provision in the agreement failed to provide a calculation of the presumptive award or any reasoning for deviating from the same at a time when Domestic Relations Law former § 236 ( B) (5-a) (f) required such language.
Moreover, because the calculation in the agreement was intended to substitute for any potential maintenance award, “both temporary and permanent,” the entirety of the provision had to be vacated.
Note: Effective October 10, 2010, some four months before the Spiegel’s entered their agreement and married, Domestic Relations Law §236 (B) (5-a) (f) was enacted by the 2010 Laws of NY, ch. 371, to provide:
f. A validly executed agreement or stipulation voluntarily entered into between the parties in an action commenced after the effective date of this subdivision presented to the court for incorporation in an order shall include a provision stating that the parties have been advised of the provisions of this subdivision, and that the presumptive award provided for therein results in the correct amount of temporary maintenance. in the event that such agreement or stipulation deviates from the presumptive award of temporary maintenance, the agreement or stipulation must specify the amount that such presumptive award of temporary maintenance would have been and the reason or reasons that such agreement or stipulation does not provide for payment of that amount. Such provision may not be waived by either party or counsel. nothing contained in this subdivision shall be construed to alter the rights of the parties to voluntarily enter into validly executed agreements or stipulations which deviate from the presumptive award of temporary maintenance provided such agreements or stipulations comply with the provisions of this subdivision. the court shall, however, retain discretion with respect to temporary, and post-divorce maintenance awards pursuant to this section. Any court order incorporating a validly executed agreement or stipulation which deviates from the presumptive award of temporary maintenance shall set forth the court’s reasons for such deviation.
That provision was effectively repealed by the 2015 Laws of NY, ch. 269, effective January 23, 2016, that modified the temporary maintenance formula and introduced the formula for post-divorce maintenance awards. As of then, there has been no provision mandating a CSSA-like recitation concerning maintenance, whether temporary or permanent.
Mark E. Cerasano, of Bartlett, Pontiff, Stewart & Rhodes, PC, of Glens Falls, represented the wife. Michael Assaf, of Assaf & Siegal, PLLC, of Albany, represented the husband.