Prenuptial Agreements in Rhode Island

An overview of prenuptial agreements in Rhode Island.

By , Attorney

If your potential spouse asks you to sign a prenuptial agreement, don't break off the engagement just yet. Today, premarital contracts are being used by more and more couples. Instead of a recipe for disaster, prenuptial agreements can actually lead to increased marital satisfaction and can simplify property division in the event of death or divorce.

Before entering into a premarital agreement, it's important to understand the particular rules governing agreements in your state. This article provides an overview of prenuptial agreements in Rhode Island and explains what makes an agreement enforceable. If after reading this article you have questions, please contact a local family law attorney for advice.

What Is a Prenuptial Agreement?

A prenuptial agreement, also called a "prenup" or "premarital agreement," is an agreement between two future spouses. Premarital contracts may address property division, death benefits, and alimony, among other things. The agreement must be in writing and signed by the potential spouses for it to be binding. However, if the couple calls off the wedding, the prenuptial agreement won't take effect.

Who Should Get a Prenuptial Agreement?

Anyone who wants a defined financial plan during marriage and in case of death or divorce should have a prenuptial agreement. Couples use premarital agreements for a variety of reasons. A wealthy individual may need a prenuptial agreement to protect his or her separate property. Alternatively, an individual with limited assets may use a premarital contract to preserve a child's inheritance or to create a future plan for alimony if the marriage ends in divorce.

Typically, property that is acquired by the couple during marriage is owned by both spouses jointly. If the marriage ends in divorce, property is distributed according to state law. Nevertheless, a prenuptial agreement allows couples to divide property and assets as the couple sees fit.

What Issues Will a Prenuptial Agreement Cover?

Generally, prenuptial agreements resolve issues that would otherwise be left up to a judge in a divorce. Specifically, an agreement may address one or more of the following:

  • each spouse's rights and obligations in separate or marital property
  • each spouse's right to buy, use, control, transfer, exchange, or dispose of property
  • the division of assets and debts upon death or divorce
  • either spouse's entitlement to spousal support or alimony
  • each spouse's entitlement to death benefits from the other spouse's insurance policy
  • the state law which governs the agreement
  • the making of a will or trust to support the terms of the agreement, and
  • any other matter agreed upon by the couple.

If a couple wants to change a prenuptial agreement after they have married, any changes must be in writing. Nevertheless, if a marriage is declared void, a premarital agreement won't be enforceable. Additionally, provisions in an agreement that decide child custody won't by upheld.

Can a Prenuptial Agreement Resolve Child Custody and Child Support in Rhode Island?

Child support belongs to the child and premarital agreements can't contract away a child's right to support. Moreover, custody decisions must serve a child's best interests – not the parents'. Although separating parents can reach agreements regarding custody that are often upheld by a court, a prenuptial agreement can't address future custody disputes.

Instead, a judge must assess a child's needs and best interests at a custody hearing. If parents have attempted to resolve child support and custody in a prenuptial agreement, those parts of the agreement will be ignored by the judge. A judge's custody decision will be based on the emotional and physical needs of the child at the time of the parents' separation or divorce.

Will a Rhode Island Court Enforce My Prenuptial Agreement?

Rhode Island has adopted the Uniform Prenuptial Agreement Act (UPAA), which establishes guidelines and requirements for prenuptial agreements.

The UPAA sets a standard that premarital contracts must follow. For example, a prenuptial agreement must be written and signed before a couple marries. Additionally, the marriage must take place or the agreement will never take effect. In most cases, a prenuptial agreement will be upheld unless the following factors exist:

  • one spouse did not enter into the agreement voluntarily, and
  • the agreement was unconscionable (severely unfair) when it was signed and;
    • the defrauded spouse was not provided a fair and reasonable disclosure of the other spouse's assets and debts
    • the defrauded spouse did not waive in writing his or her right to disclosure of the other spouse's financial information, and
    • the defrauded spouse could not have reasonably obtained knowledge of the other spouse's financial information.

The spouse trying to set aside the prenuptial agreement bears the burden of proving that the agreement was unconscionable and that he or she did not enter into it voluntarily. In one Rhode Island case, a husband was unsuccessful in trying to set aside an unconscionable prenuptial agreement. Because the husband entered into the extremely unfair agreement voluntarily, the court refused to set it aside.

If you're considering signing a prenuptial agreement, you should consider consulting an attorney. Prenuptial agreements are complex and can be difficult to understand. If you have additional questions regarding prenuptial agreements, contact a Rhode Island family law attorney for advice.

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