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VMM FAMILY INSTITUTE WEEKLY INSIGHTS: WESTCHESTER PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENT CASE

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 substantial 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."

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