Let’s talk about invalidating prenuptial agreements for a minute. What constitutes a situation where a prenup can be thrown out? Prenuptial agreements are generally favored across the nation, meaning most courts are hesitant to throw them out without a very good reason. What would be a good reason? Well, duress, coercion, or undue influence could be one. For instance, imagine you are literally held at gunpoint to sign a prenup, should a court enforce it? Definitely not. Well, that’s an extreme scenario, but there are less extreme scenarios that may constitute duress, coercion, or undue influence and require a prenup to be thrown out. Could being a pregnant bride be one? Is there an argument to be made that being a pregnant bride is a type of coercion, duress, or undue influence when signing a prenup? Let’s discuss.
What is duress, coercion, and undue influence?
In the context of prenup agreements, duress, coercion, and/or undue influence are all different types of legal concepts that describe the circumstances of the creation of a prenup. Duress can be described as when one party is forced or threatened into signing the prenup against their will, often under emotional or physical pressure. Coercion is similar but usually involves more subtle forms of pressure, such as manipulation or persistent persuasion, which can undermine a party’s ability to make a free and voluntary decision. Undue influence occurs when one party, who is usually in a position of power, exerts so much influence over their partner that it overcomes their free will, causing them to sign the agreement without fully understanding the implications or alternatives.
As you can imagine, courts don’t like prenuptial agreements that are made under duress, coercion, and/or undue influence. In fact, they usually throw them out if any of these are found. In other words, prenups made under duress, coercion, and/or undue influence are unenforceable. However, it’s exceedingly difficult to prove any of these.
The pregnant bride argues for duress or coercion
Can a woman argue that she was under so much duress and/or coercion while signing the prenup because she was pregnant, that the prenup should be thrown out? For example, she simply signed the prenup because she needed financial support for herself and her unborn child, ultimately being forced into signing it. Well, she can argue it, but that doesn’t mean she will win. In fact, most courts that have discussed the pregnant bride argument do not find this to be considered duress or coercion. In fact, most courts do not find a woman being pregnant while signing a prenup to be enough to constitute duress or coercion. Let’s look at some cases that discuss this exact scenario.
Hamilton v. Hamilton: A Pennsylvania case
The pregnant wife in this case was 18 years old, unemployed, and in a precarious situation. She was told there would be no wedding if she didn’t sign the agreement and was “probably frightened” at this idea, being three months pregnant with no money and being so young. However, both spouses, even the pregnant bride, had a lawyer to represent them and give them legal advice. The bride’s lawyer actually advised her not to sign the prenup but she did anyway. The result? The court said this wasn’t a case of duress. The prenup is valid.
Kilborn v. Kilborn: An Alabama case
The future bride in this case was just 17 years old when she moved in with her boyfriend. After a few years of living together, she got pregnant. Her boyfriend presented her with a prenup and insisted she sign before the wedding. She had a lawyer who advised against signing the prenup. She signed it anyway because she didn’t want her child to be born out of wedlock. The prenup included sufficient financial disclosures. The result? The court said she voluntarily signed the agreement (no duress or coercion) after receiving independent legal advice and full disclosure of her husband’s assets.
What are some arguments that do constitute duress, coercion, or undue influence?
So the pregnant bride’s argument alone probably isn’t enough to be duress, coercion, or undue influence, but what is? Well, every case is different and a court will hear you out if you have a unique situation. However, domestic violence or threat of physical violence is really the only surefire way to get your prenup thrown out for duress or coercion. This is rare though.
What scenario is usually argued for duress/coercion is the timing of prenup presentation plus other compounding factors. For example, the husband presents a prenup for the first time on the day of the wedding and the bride doesn’t have a lawyer and she is unable to read English. This is likely a good case for duress or coercion due to the combination of distressing factors. However, one of these factors on its own is not likely to be enough to constitute duress. Let’s look at some case law for examples.
Bauer v. Bauer: Prenup presented close to the wedding plus other factors
An Oregon court found a prenup to be signed under coercion when the prenup was presented too close to the wedding day, the wife did not have a lawyer nor did she have time to get one, and the husband did not provide financial disclosure. The prenup was ultimately thrown out because of the coercion here. As you can see, it was a multitude of factors that lead up to a decision of coercion, not just the timing of the prenup.
In re Marriage of Adams: Prenup signed one hour before the wedding was valid
In this case, the husband told his future wife he would not get married without signing a prenuptial agreement months before their wedding. The husband’s lawyer sent a draft of the prenup to the wife one week before the wedding. The wife ultimately ended up signing it one hour before walking down the aisle. The court said this is not duress. As you can see, timing alone is usually not enough to get a prenup thrown out for duress, there needs to be other factors.
Being a pregnant bride typically doesn’t void prenups, so make sure you’re comfortable with your prenup!
Sometimes, prenups can get thrown out if it can be shown that one person signed the agreement under duress, coercion, or undue influence. However, this can be hard to prove. Courts are typically hesitant to throw out a prenup, so the only surefire way to show duress is going to be through the threat of physical violence or some type of domestic violence. Being a pregnant bride is usually not a convincing argument in any state unless you have other circumstances that add to the situation.
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]