In re Marriage of Miotke Summary
In re Marriage of Miotke published 5-28-19
Snippet: Waivers of spousal support in pre-2002 premarital agreements are enforceable, even if subsequent circumstances render them unconscionable.
The Sixth Appellate District of California recently held that a premarital agreement (PMA)’s provision regarding the mutual waiver of spousal support is enforceable even when the effect of the agreement appears unfair to one party after the fact.
In In re Marriage of Miotke, Natalia Zarubin and Peter Miotke signed a PMA in October of 1996. The PMA stated, “Both parties agree that in the case of separation or divorce there will be no spousal support owed by either of the parties to the other.” The couple was married a month later and separated in December of 2010.
Trial Court Decision
At a settlement conference in February 2012, the parties agreed to have a retired private judge, the Honorable Catherine Gallagher, decide most of the issues concerning the divorce. Judge Gallagher ruled that the PMA was enforceable, finding that its signing was not unconscionable and that the couple’s disclosure of assets at the time was “fair, reasonable, and full.” Specifically, Judge Gallagher found that Natalia voluntarily signed the PMA and that it was “not the result of fraud, menace, duress, or undue influence.”
Natalie subsequently filed a motion to set aside the Judge Gallaher’s decision, which was assigned to trial court Judge, Margaret Johnson. Natalie argued the PMA was “unconscionable and inequitable” as there did not exist essential contract elements, financial disclosure, and she was not provided a seven-day waiting period. Jude Johnson denied Natalie set-aside relief. Natalie appealed.
in February 2014, trial commenced on reserved issues before Judge Towery. Judge Towery ruled that Judge Gallagher’s decision concerning the PMA and waiver of spousal support was the “law of the case” and that Natalia had failed to offer a legal or factual basis to overturn the order or award spousal support.
Decision on Appeal
On appeal to the Sixth Appellate District of California, Natalia argued that she should be awarded spousal support despite the PMA because enforcing it made her dependent on public assistance.
The appellate court first turned to the issue of the “time of enforcement” of the PMA under the law and ruled that it was the September 2012 trial before Judge Gallagher, during which Natalia should have raised the issue of unconscionability. Her failure to raise the issue before the trial court precluded her from raising the issue on appeal. Therefore, the appellate court didn’t reach the question of whether the PMA was unconscionable.
Next, in addressing whether a trial court could revisit a mutual waiver of support in a PMA because carrying out its terms “appears unfair to a party,” the court compared the waiver to similar provisions in marital settlement provisions. In such situations, where the parties have agreed that support orders are not modifiable, trial courts will not alter the agreement even with a change in material circumstances.
The court held:
“Parties prior to marriage or in dissolution proceedings are entitled to reach agreements about spousal support, and so long as the circumstances surrounding the formation of the agreement are conscionable and lawful, courts will not intervene in the unintended consequences to the parties in the future.”
This decision makes clear the importance of paying close attention to a PMA’s terms, or as the court put it quoting a case regarding a settlement action, to “be particularly mindful of all possible circumstances that might warrant a modification or cessation of spousal support, and plan accordingly.”
Viewing the presentations, articles, other content, or contacting me/you through my web site does not establish an attorney client relationship. I will not file a notice of appeal nor calculate the time in which a notice of appeal must be filed by until I have received a signed retainer agreement. Warning, the time from which to file a notice of appeal is statutory. The time in which you have to appeal may pass between when you first contact me and when an attorney client relationship is formed upon when I receive a signed retainer agreement . Until a retainer agreement is signed and received by me, it is YOUR responsibility to insure your appeal is filed within the statutory period. The articles on this website are not legal advice and should not be used in lieu of an attorney. The accuracy of articles and information on this site cannot be relied upon.