The Second Department seems to have taken another bite out of prenuptial agreements. My March 25, 2013 post asked, Is it Open Season on Prenuptial Agreements? That post discussed the Second Department’s February, 2013 decision in Cioffi-Petrakis v. Petrakis and its December, 2012 decision in Petracca v. Petracca. Both cases affirmed Supreme Court Nassau County decisions setting aside the prenuptial agreements in issue,

Now, in an October 15, 2014 decision in McKenna v. McKenna, the Second Department modified an order of Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Margaret C. Reilly that had granted a husband summary judgment motion declaring the parties’ prenuptial agreement to be valid and enforceable. Justice Reilly had also denied the wife’s motion for an award of pendente lite maintenance and counsel fees.

Holding that summary judgment was not warranted, the appellate court may have increased or changed the burden needed to uphold a prenuptial agreement; changing the role of a contract’s “merger clause.” That clause declares that no factual representations not specifically referenced in the contract may later be used to claim the contract was fraudulently induced. Typically, it is a shield used to protect the agreement from attack.

In McKenna, the Second Department suggests a merger clause may be used as a sword: preventing a court from learning the wife’s actual knowledge of the husband’s finances at the time the prenuptial agreement was entered. As that knowledge could only have come from representations of the husband, the merger clause would bar proof of such representations not referenced by the agreement.


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“Estoppel” is the principle that precludes a person from asserting something contrary to that inconsistent with a previous statement, position or ruling. Two decisions last month bringing the principal and to focus.

First, the June 4, 2014 decision  of Kings County Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey S. Sunshine in Zito v. Zito primarily resolved the wife’s motion for temporary relief in a divorce action commenced by the husband on June 7, 2011. The parties had been married 10 years before that, and had a daughter (then 5) and a son (then 3).

The husband works in the family-owned Smiling Pizzeria. The wife, although a licensed pharmacist, alleged that she had been a full-time homemaker since the children were born. Those children attend private school and participate in a number of organized activities.

However, in addition to the wife’s motion for temporary relief, Smiling Pizzeria, itself, had moved to be allowed to intervene in the divorce action. The pizzeria wanted to establish that it was owned only by the husband’s father; that the husband had no ownership interest. Without an ownership interest of the husband, it was argued, it could not be subject to equitable distribution.


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Scheinkman photo 2.jpgFrom the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” Department:

During the course of this Westchester County divorce action, Elizabeth Perry “engaged in inappropriate litigation behavior.” She refused to comply with court orders to produce documents or to submit to an examination before trial, she secreted assets (including millions of dollars of cash assets), and she apparently illicitly acquired documents and computer files belonging to her husband, Jeffrey.

The July 17, 2012 decision of Supreme Court Justice Alan D. Scheinkman (pictured) in Perry v. Perry, resolved a motion prompted by the wife’s alleged transmission to the husband of an unsigned, haphazardly redacted and truncated letter from an undisclosed attorney writing to “confirm” an understanding with the wife and which recommended the filing of a civil RICO action against the husband in the United States District Court.  The document suggested that the litigation would be based on the husband’s failure to fully disclose his income and assets on his Statement of Net Worth.

Mr. Perry alleged that at the outset of the case, his wife’s first of 11 attorneys in this 19-month pending action made similar allegations. Although the husband attested to having provided tens of thousands of pages of documents, the wife refused to provide any.

It was also alleged that the wife had intercepted some nine boxes of files intended for the husband and hid them. Ms. Perry apparently orchestrated the hacking of her husband’s computer, including privileged matter. Mr. Perry alleged that in order to circumvent a restraint imposed by the Court, his wife put the housekeeper in a disguise and directed her to take a taxi to a storage unit in order to remove a suitcase full of jewelry. It was also claimed that Ms. Perry emptied a money market account of $5 million and removed valuable furniture, artwork and mirrors from the marital residence. Further, recent bank information indicated that of the approximately $11.5 million held in a particular Chase account of the wife in April 2012, there is only just over $1 million left.

On non-financial matters, the wife attempted to involve the police and commenced a now-dismissed family offense proceeding when her husband technically violated a driveway-pickup order when he entered the former marital residence in Scarsdale in order to convince his daughter to go with him on a planned vacation trip to Australia. As it happened, his wife’s absence from the home was also likely a violation of that portion of the order that required her to be inside the residence. While Ms. Perry’s effort to involve the police was not wholly successful (she did get Homeland Security officials to detain Mr. Perry and the children briefly upon return to this country), she obtained an ex parte Family Court temporary order of protection, which she used to derail the husband’s access to the children for a time.

Mr Perry also believed it was his wife, after Justice Scheinkman previously directed that Mr. Perry have custody of the children, who anonymously complained to Child Protective Services that the children were being held against their will at Mr. Perry’s residence. This claim was investigated and found to be unfounded.


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