Signatures on New York Marital Agreements Must Meet Strict Statutory Criteria to Be Enforceable

agreementCertain types of contracts can have a significant impact extending beyond the individual parties who signed the actual document. New York law therefore requires certain procedures to ensure not only that a signature is authentic but also that the signer is acting with some minimal amount of forethought. State law establishes multiple requirements for documents that convey interests in real property, such as deeds. New York’s Domestic Relations Law (DRL) has adopted these requirements for pre- and post-marital agreements. A court in Westchester County considered a challenge to the validity of a premarital agreement this summer. Its ruling in BW v. RF reviews the DRL’s requirements regarding the signatures on a marital agreement and the reasons for those requirements.

Section 236B(3) of the DRL states that marital agreements are “valid and enforceable in a matrimonial action” if they meet two essential requirements. First, the agreement must be in writing. That is the easy part. Second, the agreement must be “acknowledged or proven” in the same manner required for a recorded deed. This is where complications can occur.

Before being recorded, a deed must be “duly acknowledged” by the person signing it. This requires signing the document before a notary public or another authorized official, as well as orally stating that they have signed it. The notary or other official must have “satisfactory evidence” that the person signing the document is the same person described in the document, and they must sign a “certificate of acknowledgment” stating that they have complied with all of the statutory requirements. State law provides a uniform certificate of acknowledgment for this purpose.

A 2013 New York Court of Appeals case, Galetta v. Galetta, outlined how the state’s requirements for executing a deed apply to signatures on marital agreements. This decision clearly identified the two reasons for requiring acknowledged signatures on marital agreements, as mentioned above:  “to prove the identity” of the signer and “to impose a measure of deliberation…in the act of executing the document.” The Court of Appeals reviewed the technical requirements for a signature and found that the agreement in question was unenforceable because the notary had not included language stating that they either knew the signer or had obtained satisfactory evidence authenticating the signature.

The marital agreement in Galetta failed because of a technical defect, but this is not always fatal to a marital agreement. A 2007 Appellate Division decision, Weinstein v. Weinstein, allowed the enforcement of an agreement that, while it included all of the required elements, did not use the specific verbiage established by state law. The Appellate Division found that the agreement “deviated in form…but not substance,” and it was therefore enforceable.

The parties in BW executed a premarital agreement shortly before getting married in 2004. The defendant claimed in 2015 that the agreement was invalid because the notary’s acknowledgement did not clearly state that they witnessed the parties’ signatures. Instead, it used the past tense “has signed.” The court, however, found that state law only requires a notary, after verifying a signer’s identity, to obtain their verbal acknowledgment that they signed the document. It denied the defendant’s motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of the agreement’s enforceability, holding that the agreement “conforms substantially” with state law.

For over 30 years, New York City divorce attorney Ingrid Gherman has assisted her clients with difficult legal issues involving divorce and other family law matters. Contact us today online or at (212) 941-0767 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case with a member of our team.

More Blog Posts:

New York Appellate Court Assesses Validity of Post-Nuptial Agreement in Divorce Case, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, November 14, 2016

Claim of “Mutual Mistake” Is Insufficient to Rescind Prenuptial Agreement in New York Divorce Case, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, October 27, 2016

New York City Court Allows Marital Fraud Lawsuit to Proceed, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, October 20, 2016

Photo credit: jarmoluk [Public domain], via Pixabay.