Massachusetts Prenup Laws: Everything You Need to Know
At its core, marriage is about love and commitment. Yet marriage is also a legal contract. If the marriage ends in divorce, there are very specific ways that the couple’s assets and debts will be divided.
For this reason, some couples decide to sign an antenuptial agreement – commonly known as a prenuptial agreement or prenup – before getting married. A prenup can establish things like property division or alimony payments, which may help couples protect their financial assets and avoid costly legal battles in the event of a divorce.
Massachusetts prenups laws outline several requirements that must be met in order for a prenup to be valid and enforceable. If you are considering getting married and want a prenup, the experienced family law attorneys of Infinity Law Group can help. Reach out today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.
The Basics: Understanding Massachusetts Prenuptial Agreements
A prenuptial agreement is a contract between two people who plan to marry each other. This contract usually lays out the division of all or some of each person’s property and the payment of alimony in the event of a divorce. Importantly, prenup agreements cannot limit or waive child support.
There are many reasons why a couple may decide that a prenup is in their best interests. They are particularly common in second marriages, or when one member of the couple has significantly more assets than the other. Other reasons to have a prenup may include:
- To protect assets for children from previous relationships
- To set out the method for dividing premarital assets
- To protect an individual’s inheritance or interest in a trust
- To protect a person’s interest in a business or professional practice
- To reduce costly litigation in the event of a divorce
- To specify the method for dividing premarital debts
Whatever the reason for a prenup agreement may be, there are certain requirements that must be followed in order for a prenup to be valid under Massachusetts prenup laws. If an antenuptial agreement does not comply with prenup laws in MA, then a judge probably will not enforce the terms of the contract. This happens all-too-frequently when a couple decides to use an online prenup template or service.
What Must a Prenup Include Under Massachusetts Law?
In Massachusetts, antenuptial settlements (prenups) must be reasonable and fair both at the time that the parties sign the contract and at the time of the judgment of divorce.
The contract provides how real or personal property will be characterized in the event of a divorce (as either separate or marital property). It may also limit each spouse to a specific ownership interest in a property (such as a life estate) or otherwise limit a spouse’s property interests in separate property.
A prenup must also contain a schedule of property that is affected by the contract. This is more commonly referred to as a full financial disclosure from both parties.
A Massachusetts prenup must be written. Unlike some other types of contracts, verbal prenups are not valid under MA law.
If one party challenges the validity of a prenup during a divorce, then a judge will look to several factors to determine whether it was reasonable and fair at the time that it was signed, including:
- Whether both parties signed the prenuptial agreement voluntarily, without coercion or threats;
- Whether each party had the opportunity to review the agreement, consult with an attorney, and/or negotiate conditions before signing;
- Whether one or both parties had legal representation;
- Whether both parties completely and truthfully disclosed all assets and liabilities to each other.
Although a lawyer is not required for a prenup, having legal counsel will increase the likelihood that the agreement will be upheld. When the parties have a Massachusetts prenup lawyer – or their own attorneys – there is a better chance that they have a clear understanding of their rights and obligations under the contract.
Next, a judge will take a “second look” at the prenup to determine if it is reasonable and fair at the time that it will be applied during the divorce. Under the second look test, a court will examine a number of factors to determine if enforcement of the prenup would leave one party “ ‘without sufficient property, maintenance, or appropriate employment’” to support themselves. Depending on the facts of the case, a Massachusetts court may find that the application of a prenup would be unconscionable and would invalidate it as a result.
A prenup may also be deemed unenforceable if it contains illegal provisions. Remember: Massachusetts antenuptial agreements are meant to address issues related to assets and liabilities. A prenup cannot limit or waive child support obligations, as child support is owed to a child – not to their parents.
Similarly, “lifestyle” clauses are often considered invalid in Massachusetts. A lifestyle clause may limit one spouse’s right to alimony or property if they violate the clause – such as by cheating, gaining weight, or another issue. Massachusetts courts are reluctant to enforce these types of clauses.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Prenup?
Massachusetts prenup laws do not require you to hire a lawyer for an antenuptial agreement. However, there are a lot of good reasons to work with an experienced MA prenup lawyer rather than attempting a DIY approach.
As discussed above, a prenup can be invalidated in Massachusetts if it is not reasonable and fair at the time of signing and at the time of enforcement. If a prenup is invalidated, then the parties will be required to go through an expensive and time-consuming process to determine property division and alimony. In most cases, you will spend far more money on litigation than you would have hiring an attorney to draft the prenup in the first place.
Perhaps even more importantly, if your prenup is invalidated, it can put your separate assets at risk. For example, imagine that you have an ownership interest in a family business that predated your marriage. If your prenup is declared unenforceable, then your soon-to-be-ex could own part of your family business – which can be particularly challenging if your break-up was acrimonious.
When a lawyer is involved in the process, the likelihood of your prenup being tossed out by the court is significantly decreased. An attorney can explain what each component of the prenup means, ensure that each component complies with Massachusetts law, and record any attached property schedule. In this way, there is less of a chance that you’ll end up bogged down in costly litigation in the future.
Do I Need a Prenup in Massachusetts?
It depends. While some people view prenuptial agreements as unromantic, it is often a smart idea to set out your rights and obligations regarding the property before you get married. This is particularly true for relationships where one or both parties have separate property that they want to protect.
If you are contemplating a prenup, reach out to Infinity Law Group for a free consultation. We will listen to your concerns and advise you of your options.
Can a Prenuptial Agreement Be Contested in Massachusetts?
Yes. Either party can contest a prenup, or ask a judge to find it unenforceable. If a court finds that the prenup isn’t reasonable or fair, or that it violates Massachusetts law in some way, then it will be invalidated.
Working with a seasoned MA prenup lawyer can reduce the risk of having your prenup deemed unenforceable. In Quincy, MA and the surrounding areas, reach out to Infinity Law Group to schedule a free initial consultation.
Can We Agree to Waive Alimony in a Prenup?
Yes. If both spouses agree that they will not seek alimony in a divorce, then a judge will likely honor this agreement. However, there is a possibility that a court will not enforce an alimony waiver if one party was coerced into agreeing or if this waiver would leave one spouse impoverished after a divorce.
The laws surrounding prenups in MA can be complicated. Call Infinity Law Group to schedule a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you with a prenuptial agreement.
How Our Law Firm Can Help
A prenup may seem relatively straightforward, but there are a number of potential pitfalls for the unwary. If your agreement doesn’t conform to Massachusetts prenup laws, you may find yourself without any protection at all. Our legal team can help you avoid this fate.
Infinity Law Group advocates for individuals and families in all aspects of Massachusetts family – including prenups. We will work with you to help you achieve your goals. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation with a Boston prenup lawyer, give us a call at 617-250-8236 or fill out our online contact form.