The First Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Richter, over a full-fledged concurring opinion and a full-fledged dissenting opinion, determined the wife’s action to set aside a prenuptial agreement, on the ground of overreaching, should have been dismissed. The fact that the husband’s net worth allegedly was $188 million in 2013, and the resulting contrast between what the husband could afford to provide and what the prenuptial agreement called for, among several other factors, raised a question of fact about “overreaching” in the eyes of the dissent. The arguments raised in the three opinions are too lengthy and detailed to fairly summarize here. On the issue of overreaching, the majority wrote:
Here, the wife’s motion did not challenge the prenuptial agreement on the ground that it is the product of coercion, duress or fraud. Nor did the wife argue that the agreement’s terms as a whole are unconscionable. Rather, her only claim was that the agreement is manifestly unfair due to the husband’s overreaching … . Although no actual fraud need be shown to set aside the agreement on this ground, the challenging party must show overreaching in the execution, such as the concealment of facts, misrepresentation, cunning, cheating, sharp practice, or some other form of deception … . In addition, the challenging party must show that the overreaching resulted in terms so manifestly unfair as to warrant equity’s intervention … .
Judged by these standards, the wife has failed to meet her heavy burden to set aside the prenuptial agreement. No issue of fact exists as to whether the husband engaged in overreaching during the negotiations leading up to the execution of the agreement. The agreement was the product of on-and-off discussions that took place over the course of more than a year and a half. Although initially the parties negotiated by themselves, about midway through, the wife retained the services of a partner in a prominent matrimonial firm. Negotiations continued by the parties and their attorneys, with draft agreements exchanged and terms modified. Both the fact that the wife was an active participant in the negotiations, and was the one who was pushing to get the agreement signed, are hard to reconcile with her current claim of overreaching. Gottlieb v Gottlieb, 2016 NY Slip Op 00613, 1st Dept 1-28-16
FAMILY LAW (PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENT, WIFE’S OVERREACHING CAUSE OF ACTION SEEKING TO SET ASIDE THE AGREEMENT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DISMISSED)/CONTRACT LAW (PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENT, WIFE’S OVERREACHING CAUSE OF ACTION SEEKING TO SET ASIDE THE AGREEMENT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DISMISSED)/PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENT (WIFE’S OVERREACHING CAUSE OF ACTION SEEKING TO SET ASIDE THE AGREEMENT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DISMISSED)