Billionaire’s divorce could be undone by wife’s prenup challenge

With the divorce rate as high as it now is, more and more couples are signing prenuptial agreements. These documents are a smart way to set the terms ahead of time for property division and other aspects of a divorce, if divorce ever becomes necessary.

Just because a prenup is signed, however, does not mean that it is enforceable. Prenuptial agreements are binding legal contracts. As such, both parties need to have full knowledge of what they are agreeing to and need to sign willingly. As one recent case shows, even the suggestion that a prenup was signed under duress could jeopardize its legitimacy.

The case involves a divorcing couple named Kenneth Griffin and Anne Dias Griffin. He founded a successful hedge-fund firm in Chicago and is worth an estimated $5.6 billion. She formerly ran a hedge-fund but turned her focus to family when the couple got married in 2001. They have three young children together.

According to news sources, Kenneth is pushing to enforce the terms of their prenuptial agreement, which he says “governs all issues” of the marriage and divorce. Abiding by the agreement could leave his ex-wife with as little as 1 percent of his wealth.

Anne Dias Griffin alleges that she signed the prenuptial agreement under duress, and it should therefore be voided. According to her own legal filing, Anne signed the document just three hours before the couple’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Moreover, she signed it on the advice of a psychologist. The particular psychologist was hired and recommended by Kenneth, and the psychologist’s advice to Anne was presented “under the guise of a counseling session.”

If these allegations are true, the prenuptial agreement could be considered invalid. In cases alleging documents signed under duress, courts often consider:

  • How soon before the wedding the prenuptial agreement was presented and signed
  • Whether the spouse asked to sign the document had adequate time to review it
  • Whether both spouses consulted with their own attorneys about the terms of the agreement
  • Whether coercion or false (verbal) promises were used to convince one spouse to sign

Surprising a fiancé with a prenuptial agreement too close to the wedding could be considered a form of coercion in some cases. It presents the tacit threat that if they don’t sign, the wedding will be called off, resulting in embarrassment for the couple and inconvenience for invited guests.

It will be interesting to see whether or not the court upholds this prenuptial agreement.

Source: Bloomberg, “Kenneth Griffin’s Wife Seeks Child Custody Amid Divorce,” Joel Rosenblatt, Sept. 2, 2014

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