Podcast devotees flocked this year to the new podcast Dirty John, produced in part by the LA Times based on its reporting, making it the #1 most downloaded podcast on iTunes for several weeks in the fall of 2017. The podcast told the story of a dangerous criminal – the titular Dirty John – who married and allegedly swindled a wealthy Orange County woman through a long series of lies and deceptions. In Episode 5 of the podcast, the woman approaches a California attorney about obtaining a postnuptial agreement between her and her husband. Most people have heard of prenuptial agreements, but certainly for many listeners learning about a postnuptial agreement was new. Here are a few lessons to be taken regarding postnuptial agreements in California.
Postnuptial Agreements Are Similar to Prenuptial Agreements
As you probably know, prenuptial agreements are contracts that individuals engaged to one another enter into before the marriage. These agreements typically cover matters such as what rights each individual will have to property in the marriage should they divorce, and what rights to spousal support they may or may not have. While some might call these agreements “unromantic,” they are simply allowing the couples to opt-out of the default California laws and courtroom uncertainties that would apply to these issues anyway should the couple divorce.
A postnuptial agreement basically can do all of the same things as a prenuptial agreement, except that – as the name suggests – these agreements are entered into after the marriage is in place. As with prenuptial agreements, a married couple can use a postnuptial agreement to agree to what should happen to property after a potential divorce and what rights each will have to spousal support.
A key difference, of course, is that with a prenuptial agreement, one party’s refusal to sign means the other party can walk away from the relationship without legal liability, but in a postnuptial agreement, both parties will be subject to the default California laws if either spouse does not sign.
Postnuptial Agreements Can Help Address Concerns in the Marriage
In the Dirty John podcast, the wife was advised to look into obtaining a postnuptial agreement as a way of addressing her concerns and those of her family about the husband’s previously undiscovered criminal past and any threat he might pose to her down the line should the relationship go even further south and he were to make grandiose claims in a divorce.
Put another way, the thinking was that, by having the husband sign a postnuptial agreement saying he would not make certain claims to property in a potential divorce, the wife would have more comfort going forward in the marriage because the agreement would show he wasn’t just “in it for the money.”
While suspicions and concerns like these are certainly not the only reason couples obtain postnuptial agreements, an overall desire for stability and certainty among both spouses in a marriage is a common reason that such agreement are pursued.
A Refusal to Sign a Postnuptial Agreement May Be Telling
Listeners of Dirty John will know that, when the titular character learned what the postnuptial agreement would entail and mean for his rights, he did not take it well. As the attorney who provided the couple with consultation reported, “The strangest thing happened during the course of this two hours together. The more we dealt about the post-nup and how it would actually go in effect, the more sulking and angry John became… It’s the kind of thing where you look at somebody and you swear, you swear you can hear, you can literally hear the seething cauldron that’s inside their brain. That’s when I started looking at this guy thinking, ‘Oh my God, he is a nutcase. This is a dangerous man.’”
As family law practitioners who have helped many a married couple look into postnuptial agreements, we can report this is not at all a common reaction. But, it is an interesting example of what you can learn about a partner and the issues in a marriage when you pursue such an agreement. Many couples do indeed, again, look to postnuptial agreements as a way of allaying concern and avoiding divorce, but, depending on how the process goes, it may be the first step in looking at other options down the road.
Contact Pasadena Family Law Attorneys About a Postnuptial Agreement
To schedule a consultation regarding any questions about prenuptial agreements in California, contact one of the family law attorneys at Kearney Baker today