In a case recently decided by the Westchester Supreme Court, the Court
held that a prenuptial agreement signed by the husband was valid despite
the fact that the form of acknowledgment did not precisely track the required
statutory language. In this case, the Plaintiff husband moved against
the Defendant wife to set aside an alleged prenuptial agreement which
was entered by the parties approximately ten years before the action was
commenced. The husband contended that the agreement was invalid for a
variety of reasons, including but not limited to, the fact that even if
properly signed it was deficient for failure to contain a proper acknowledgment
in the form prescribed by the Domestic Relations Law (DRL). The Court
concluded that prior and recent cases all stood for the proposition that
rather than slavish compliance with the strict terms of the statutory form
of acknowledgment is all that is required under the DRL.
The Court did address all the arguments and explained that the acknowledgment
form used for both signatures in the agreement revealed that it did not
precisely contain the language of the statutory prescribed form. The Plaintiff
husband therefore sought to set aside the prenuptial agreement based on
this fact. The Court reasoned that the argument suffered from a legally
deficient flaw in that it ignored the language of Real Property Law 309A
and all case law which hold that substantial rather than strict compliance
with the statutory form of acknowledgment is all that is required. There
is no requirement that a certificate of acknowledgment contain the precise
language of the Real Property Law. In the Westchester case, the acknowledgment
satisfied the identity component through the notary’s statement
that the person who signed the document "before me personally came"
and was "to me known and known to me to be" the individual who
signed it and it satisfied the solemnity component by stating that such
person "dually acknowledged to me that he executed the same."
Therefore, the Court reasoned that in the face of the substantial statutory
compliance of the acknowledgment form the prenuptial agreement was valid.
The Court indicated that "to scuttle a comprehensive prenuptial agreement
because the acknowledgment form did not slavishly adhere to the letter
of the statutory language would be the height of exalting form over substance."