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Is it possible to break your prenuptial agreement?

A lot can change over 20 years, including trends in marriage. If you had asked the average bride- or groom-to-be two decades to sign a prenuptial agreement, you might have gotten a resounding, insulted "no."

Perhaps people are getting more jaded or simply more financially savvy, but prenuptial agreements don't carry the same stigma these days. Not only are they more common than they used to be, but they're used for more than just property division in the event of a divorce. Specifications on everything from the amount of child support one spouse can collect to how much weight he or she is allowed to gain have been spelled out in today's prenups.

But how enforceable is any prenuptial agreement? Can a prenup be broken after it's signed? That depends on a number of conditions. One of those is the integrity of the couple's intentions at the time the agreement was drafted and signed. If one spouse is hiding significant assets at the time they sign, the agreement may not be honored. Minor accounting mistakes are forgivable, but if a divorce attorney can prove that one spouse clearly intended to protect large amounts of money from being included in an alimony or child support settlement, that spouse is out of luck.

Another condition that may nullify a prenup is coercion or duress, though this is historically very difficult to prove because the circumstances would have to be so extreme. If your future husband holds you hostage in order to force you to sign a prenup, you're not likely to want to tie the knot with him anyway.

Finally, some conditions of a prenuptial agreement are simply unenforceable, which could void the entire document. Let's say that a prenup stipulates that no alimony will be paid, but at the time of the divorce, one of the spouses is unable to work, either because of a disability or illness. A judge could decide that the original alimony agreement can't be enforced, and the other spouse may have to pay up in the end.

Whether you want to enforce or break a prenup, a divorce attorney can go thorugh your agreement and help you determine what's possible.

Source: Reuters, "Breaking up is hard to do, breaking prenup is harder," Geoff Williams, Oct. 5, 2012

· Our firm handles prenuptial agreements and a wide range of other family law issues. To learn more about our practice, visit our Dallas family law page.

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