Articles Posted in Premarital Agreements

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Last month, the state’s high court issued an opinion in a Rhode Island family law case discussing a marital settlement agreement and whether Husband was entitled to visitation with two dogs. While at first glance the case may seem narrowly focused, it provides valuable insight regarding Rhode Island marital settlement agreements and how courts interpret and enforce these documents.

According to the court’s opinion, Husband and Wife filed for divorce after 26 years of marriage. At the time the court entered an order dissolving the marriage, it incorporated a marriage settlement agreement (the “agreement”) that the parties had agreed upon. Among other things, the marriage settlement agreement provided that Wife would retain sole ownership of the former couple’s two dogs. The agreement also stated that Husband was permitted to take the dogs for visits from Tuesday morning through Thursday morning.

For about six months, Husband was able to visit the dogs under the terms of the agreement. However, Wife eventually stopped allowing Husband to visit the dogs. Husband requested the court step in to enforce the terms of the marriage settlement agreement, asking the court to order Wife to allow his visits and provide for make-up visits. Wife responded with her own request to the court, claiming that she should not need to comply with the agreement because Husband was not properly caring for the dogs and had attempted to keep them away from her, in violation of the agreement.

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A premarital agreement, also called a prenuptial agreement, is an agreement between prospective spouses regarding the disposition of the couple’s assets in the event that the marriage ends. A premarital agreement applies not only upon divorce, but also upon the death of one of the spouses.

Prospective spouses may enter into a premarital agreement for any number of reasons, most of which are valid. Rhode Island law provides for certain default rules to be applied in the event of death or divorce, and these rules may not work for all couples. Thus, couples can clarify their intent to have a different set of rules apply in their marriage by creating a premarital agreement. Most often, Rhode Island prenuptial agreements are designed to provide the parties financial clarity.

The Enforceability of Prenuptial Agreements

As a general rule, validly created Rhode Island premarital agreements are considered binding against the parties. In Rhode Island, courts look to the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act when determining whether an agreement is valid. Notably, Rhode Island courts place a heavy burden on the party seeking to invalidate the agreement.

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When a couple goes through a Rhode Island divorce, there are many issues that must be resolved. For example, the division of the couple’s assets, who will take on the responsibility for the marital debt, which party will get to remain in the marital home, and whether there is the need for spousal support. If the parties have not entered into a valid prenuptial agreement, Rhode Island courts will apply a set of default rules to resolve these issues. However, many couples are not satisfied with the default rules and choose to enter into a Rhode Island prenuptial agreement.

What Is a Prenuptial Agreement?

A prenuptial agreement, also called a premarital agreement, is a contract that is entered into in anticipation of marriage. Under Rhode Island’s Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, a premarital agreement can cover a broad range of issues, including:

  • The rights of the parties to use property;
  • The disposition of property upon separation or divorce;
  • The modification or elimination of spousal support;
  • Ownership of either parties’ life insurance benefits; and
  • The choice of law governing the divorce proceeding.

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