Valkavich v. Valkavich

In its February 20, 2013 decision in Cioffi-Petrakis v. Petrakis, the Second Department affirmed the decision of former Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Anthony J. Falanga which set aside the parties’ prenuptial agreement. Indeed, decisions over the past year indicate that there may be a pendulum swinging towards easing the burden on the party (generally, the wife) attacking such agreements.

For example, in its December 5, 2012 decision in Petracca v. Petracca, the Second Department affirmed the decision of Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey S. Brown that set aside a postnuptial agreement due to the husband’s overreaching at the time of signing some 16 years earlier (see the blog post of December 10, 2012: “Postnuptial Agreement Vacated for Overreachong 16 Years After Entry).

In Cioffi-Petrakis, the wife contended that her husband had reneged on his oral promise to tear up their prenuptial agreement once she had children made shortly before the pre-nuptial agreements’s execution (the parties now have two sons and a daughter). That promise was not referenced in the parties’ written agreement entered just four days before the parties’ marriage. Moreover, the parties had disclaimed reliance upon oral statements by either party, a relatively standard provision in the agreement, itself. Nevertheless, the Second Department agreed with Justice Falanga that the evidence supported the wife’s claim that she had been fraudulently induced to accept the deal.

Ironically, three years earlier (72 A.D.3d 868, 898 N.Y.S.2d 861), the Second Department affirmed Justice Falanga’s prior order dismissing the wife’s causes of action which attacked the very same agreement on the grounds of unconscionability. There, the Second Department was satisfied with the record’s demonstration that the wife was represented by independent counsel during the prenuptial agreement negotiations (her counsel signed the agreement as a witness). Moreover, the agreement itself recited that the wife entered into it “freely, voluntarily and with full knowledge of all circumstances having a bearing on this agreement.” At that time, the Second Department opined that the wife was provided with meaningful bargained-for benefits, including a one-third interest in one of the defendant’s businesses. The wife had advanced nothing but conclusory and unsubstantiated assertions insufficient to defeat the husband’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the cause of action to set aside the parties’ prenuptial agreement on the ground of unconscionability.

Continue Reading Is it Open Season on Prenuptial Agreements?

Mediation.jpgThe ex-husband brought this post-divorce civil action against his ex-wife and Alan L. Finkel, the attorney who mediated the spouses’ 2007 divorce settlement agreement, seeking to set aside that agreement.

In his July 12, 2012, decision in Valkavich v. Valkavich, Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Ralph T. Gazzillo, granted summary judgment dismissing the complaint.

The husband complained that the child support provisions did not comply with the Child Support Standards Act (C.S.S.A.), that it contained erroneous statements concerning his earnings at the time.

Justice Gazzillo found that the ex-husband had not demonstrated that the Stipulation of Settlement was unfair when made or that there was overreaching in its execution. The Court placed heavy emphasis on the waivers and disclaimers signed by the parties at the time of their mediation. It was clear from the agreement between the parties and the mediator, as well as the Stipulation of Settlement, that the parties were advised to seek guidance from an outside attorney, if they so chose. This was certainly sufficient opportunity for plaintiff to have had the proposed agreement reviewed by an attorney and to have been advised of any questions he had as to its terms. By the terms of the agreement, plaintiff acknowledged that he had the right to obtain counsel, that he knew and understood what he was signing, and that he entered into it freely and voluntarily.

Pertinent portions of the agreement between the parties and The Divorce Mediation Center stated:

At the end … of the first session, you will be asked to complete a financial disclosure package. However, you are free to waive this homework assignment, provided you both agree to do so. … We highly recommend that prior to signing the final agreement, each of you spend sufficient time in fully reviewing it (and bringing it to your attorney, accountant, guru,, parent, sibling, or other adviser or confidant) to be confident that it contains everything you need, and that the agreement is fair.

Continue Reading Mediated Divorce Settlement Agreement Upheld In Light Of Waiver of Financial Disclosure