The Importance of a Valid and Enforceable Prenuptial Agreement: A Lesson from Kelly Clarkson’s Recent Divorce

By Marissa Del Mauro, Esq.

            Kelly Clarkson’s divorce made recent headlines, in which the Court confirmed she has been awarded the parties’ Montana ranch valued at over $10 million dollars. While this may seem like a stereotypical celebrity divorce battle, the important take away is that the Judge’s decision came down to the enforceability and validity of the parties’ prenuptial agreement.

            While we do not have the actual prenuptial agreement before us, articles state that the prenuptial agreement has clear definitions of what is deemed separate property, which includes but is not limited to the Montana ranch, and all income derived by Ms. Clarkson during the parties’ marriage. Separate property, when defined in prenuptial agreements, is not subject to equitable distribution between the parties upon the commencement of a divorce action and when the prenuptial agreement takes effect.

            Despite her ex-husband’s attempts to contest the terms of the prenuptial agreement as it pertains to the Montana property and any testimony he put forth regarding it, the Court relied upon the validity of the prenuptial agreement. 

            Looking at this situation through a lens of New Jersey law, N.J.S.A. 37:2-38 provides for the grounds under which a prenuptial agreement may be unenforceable. In applicable part, N.J.S.A. 37:2-38 provides as follows:

The burden of proof to set aside a premarital or pre-civil union agreement shall be upon the party alleging the agreement to be unenforceable. A premarital or pre-civil union agreement shall not be enforceable if the party seeking to set aside the agreement proves, by clear and convincing evidence, that:

a. The party executed the agreement involuntarily; or

                        . . .

c. The agreement was unconscionable when it was executed because that party, before execution of the agreement:

(1) Was not provided full and fair disclosure of the earnings, property and financial obligations of the other party;

(2) Did not voluntarily and expressly waive, in writing, any right to disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party beyond the disclosure provided;

(3) Did not have, or reasonably could not have had, an adequate knowledge of the property or financial obligations of the other party; or

(4) Did not consult with independent legal counsel and did not voluntarily and expressly waive, in writing, the opportunity to consult with independent legal counsel.

d. The issue of unconscionability of a premarital or pre-civil union agreement shall be determined by the court as a matter of law. An agreement shall not be deemed unconscionable unless the circumstances set out in subsection c. of this section are applicable.

It is important for every client seeking to obtain and/or enforce a valid prenuptial agreement to understand all requirements under New Jersey law.  For more information regarding established and experienced representation on preparing and enforcing prenuptial agreements in New Jersey contact Lyons & Associates, P.C. For a private consultation, contact us by e-mail or call our office at 908-575-9777.