A recent unpublished (non-precedential) decision, Steffens v. Steffens, suggests that the answer to the above question is “no.”
In Steffens, the Wife sought to set aside a prenuptial agreement, arguing that it was unconscionable, in large part because the alimony payments she was to receive under the agreement would not allow her to maintain the marital lifestyle. At trial, the Court excluded evidence of the marital lifestyle. On appeal, the Wife argued that the Court erred by excluding such evidence which, she claimed, should have been a part of the analysis when the Court decided whether enforcement would leave her “without a means of reasonable support.”
The trial court, however, had good reason to exclude this evidence, because the parties had specified in the prenuptial agreement itself that neither of them would have the right to assert a claim against the other to maintain the marital standard of leaving. Therefore, the trial court only considered the question of whether the Wife would have a means of “reasonable” support if the agreement were enforced – not whether she would have a means of support that would enable her to continue to leave at or reasonably close to the marital lifestyle. Put another way, she made her deal as to the specific amounts of support she would be entitled to in the event of a divorce at the time of the prenuptial agreement, and because she had means of support vis a vis the agreement and other financial resources, the Court enforced; it did not matter that her lifestyle would be diminished. The Appellate Division found that this analysis was proper.
Interestingly, the Appellate Division touched upon the relatively recent amendments to the New Jersey statute related to prenuptial agreements, noting that for agreements executed after the effective date of the amendments (June 27, 2013), the question of whether a spouse will be left with a reasonable means of support is no longer relevant. The prenuptial agreement in Steffen pre-dated the effective date. However, for later agreements, these amendments make it even harder to set aside prenuptial agreements because those who seek to set them aside can no longer argue that they will be left without reasonable means of support if the agreement is enforced. Instead, they can only advance arguments about the agreement being unconscionable from inception as a result of lack of full and fair disclosure, involuntariness, or lack of independent counsel.
This recent decision serves as food for thought for anyone considering entering into a prenuptial agreement applying New Jersey law. Absent a future change in the law, the level of fairness of the result of enforcement of the prenuptial agreement matters little, if at all, and as the supported spouse you may have no recourse if the prenuptial agreement leads you to live a dramatically lessor lifestyle post-divorce than you enjoyed during the marriage.
Jessica C. Diamond is an associate in the firm’s Family Law Practice, resident in the Morristown, NJ, office. You can reach Jessica at (973) 994.7517 or firstname.lastname@example.org.