Citation. 525 Pa. 392, 581 A.2d 162,1990 Pa.
Law Students: Don’t know your Studybuddy Pro login? Register here
Brief Fact Summary.
The parties, Catherine Simeone (nee Walsh) and Frederick Simeone, were engaged to be married. On the eve of their wedding, Frederick’s attorney presented Catherine with a prenuptial agreement limiting her recovery in the case of divorce to $25,000, which she signed without her own counsel or explanation from Frederick’s attorney of the legal rights surrendered. The couple divorced, and Frederick refused to pay alimony, invoking the prenuptial agreement.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Parties to a contract are bound by the agreement regardless of whether they read and fully understood the terms and irrespective of whether the agreements embodied reasonable or good bargains.
Catherine, a twenty-three-year-old unemployed nurse, and Frederick, a thirty-nine-year-old neurosurgeon were engaged to be married. On the even of the wedding, Frederick’s attorney presented Catherine with a prenuptial agreement that limited her right to receive money from Frederick in the case of separation or divorce to $25,000. Catherine signed the prenuptial agreement without consulting independent counsel, and Frederick’s attorney did not explain the agreement. The parties separated, and two years after separation, the divorce proceedings began. Catherine filed a claim for alimony pendente lite, which Frederick resisted on the ground that he had already made support payments satisfying the $25,000 limit.
Is the prenuptial agreement binding on the parties?
Yes. Ignorance as to the terms of the agreement is not a defense to enforcement. Even if the agreement did not embody a reasonable or good bargain, the parties are bound by their agreements. Here, Catherine signed the prenuptial agreement without seeking counsel or asking for explanation. She asserted that the agreement was procured under duress, because she could not have obtained counsel without postponing the wedding. In fact, even though the final draft had been presented on the eve of the wedding the parties had discussed the agreement for about six months prior to the wedding day. Catherine had ample opportunity to obtain an attorney. Since she signed the agreement, she is bound by its terms.
Contracts in marriage are different than ordinary contracts. Hence, at the dissolution of a marriage, a spouse should be able to avoid a prenuptial agreement upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence that, despite full disclosure at the time of execution, the agreement is so inequitable and unfair that it should not be enforced in a court of this state.
Concurrence. The majority opinion contains declarations about the equality of women that are simply not true. Prenuptial agreements are contracts of adhesion. However, the present case does not involve the broader issues to which the declarations of equality are addressed. Therefore, this case is correctly decided.
Ignorance is no excuse. An agreement is enforceable even if the parties did not fully understand the agreement and/or the agreement represents a bad b