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If You Rip up a Signed Prenuptial Agreement in Washington State, Does it Mean that Your Prenuptial Agreement is Legally Null and Void?

Posted on September 28, 2020 by Lisa Sharpe

Tearing up a prenuptial agreement has made national news in music mogul Dr. Dre’s divorce in California, but how would Washington State courts treat the issue?  In Los Angeles, Dr. Dre’s wife, Nicole Young, says that Dr. Dre tore up multiple copies of their prenuptial agreement and they both verbally agreed it was no longer valid.  At stake is the fortune he amassed as a famous producer, rapper and entrepreneur, who co-founded Beats headphones and has an estimated net worth of $820 million dollars.  Did the California Love producer nullify his prenuptial agreement?

Most prenuptial contracts require that any modification of the agreement must be in writing.  The California Code on prenuptial agreements states, “After marriage, a premarital agreement may be amended or revoked only by a written agreement signed by the parties.”  The decision regarding Dr. Dre’s divorce is pending in Los Angeles and family law attorneys are eagerly watching for the court’s ruling.

California has adopted the Uniform Premarital Act; however Washington State has not adopted the Uniform Act.  Instead, Washington case law governs prenuptial agreements and the validity and enforceability is often decided upon the specific facts under which the agreements were signed, negotiated and later followed during the marriage.  The burden falls on the spouse seeking to enforce a prenuptial agreement in Washington State to show the parties strictly observed terms of the agreement in good faith.

In Washington State, the parties can rescind or revoke a prenuptial agreement through their actions.  A prenuptial agreement that is valid and enforceable at the time of its execution may nonetheless be rescinded by the conduct of the parties during their marriage.  See In re Marriage of Fox, 58 Wn. App. 935, 938, 795 P.2d 1170 (1990) (holding that an antenuptial agreement that was valid and enforceable at the time of its execution had been rescinded by the parties because of the parties’ conduct during their marriage and their co-mingling of separate and community property).  If the parties did not mutually follow the terms of a prenuptial property agreement, the court is not bound to enforce it and instead may determine the intentions of the parties, in light of the circumstances before and during marriage, to determine its binding effect.

An agreement to rescind a prenuptial agreement can be oral or written, or may be implied by conduct to which both parties are aware.  The prenuptial agreement may be valid when it is signed, but later unwound or rescinded through the actions of the parties.  When considering whether a property agreement has been rescinded, Washington State courts generally look to the intent of the parties.  If the facts show that the parties did not mutually observe a prenuptial property agreement, the court is not bound to enforce it and instead may consider the intentions of the parties in determining whether the agreement should be upheld.

Washington State divorce courts have considerable equitable discretion.  The court’s powers include the power to prevent the enforcement of a legal right to prevent an inequity under the circumstances.  Equitable outcomes rely in part on the particular judge hearing the case.  The most obvious failure to mutually follow the terms is where the prenuptial agreement requires payments to the financially disadvantaged spouse that were never made or a failure to comply with provisions to create community property.   Facts that have starved the acquisition of community property while allowing separate wealth to grow are the most scrutinized.  The cases are fact specific and based on the judge’s distinct assessment of the parties’ intent and conduct.

The conclusion is for a valid and enforceable prenuptial agreement in Washington State, the parties must strictly follow the terms of the agreement to the extent possible.  Do not ignore the agreement.  The validity of a prenuptial agreement relies on meticulous fulfillment of the specific provisions set forth in the agreement.  Under Washington law, if you do not follow the terms of the prenuptial agreement, then a court may find that you rescinded or voided it.

The risk is greater under Washington law that the court may rescind a prenuptial agreement because state case law allows for mutual abandonment of the terms.  California has different legal standards and is not as likely to rescind a prenuptial agreement. We will have to wait to find out if the California court finds Dr. Dre’s prenuptial agreement is null and void after he tore it up during his marriage.