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A Premarital Agreement Written for a First Marriage Did Dot Apply to Property and Support Issues Arising from the Parties’ Second Marriage to Each Other

Husband and Wife married on October 8, 1928.  They executed a premarital agreement on October 1, 1928, and before their divorce on January 13, 1942, executed five property agreements dated June 28, 1935, November 16, 1936, December 16, 1936, November 1, 1937, and December 2, 1937.  After their divorce, the parties executed a fifth property settlement agreement on August 24, 1943. 

The respective parties re-married each other on May 11, 1945, and sought their second divorce in 1946. 

The parties’ October 1, 1928 premarital agreement addressed the parties’ intentions regarding their rights to property and was labeled an “amendment” to their prior premarital agreement. 

The June 28, 1935 agreement, which the parties executed while separated, addressed their effort to settle all property and support rights between the parties.  That agreement included Wife’s waiver to any community property interest homestead, and the right to support in excess of $200 per month.  The November 16, 1936 amendment increased Wife’s right to spousal support by another $100 per month to $300 per month total.  The final amendment was executed 19 months after their second marriage, and provided Wife with an entitlement to $60,000 in Frank’s estate should she survive him and not have re-married another, payable in $300 monthly increments.

Wife’s divorce lawyer sought declaratory relief regarding her rights under the parties’ various agreements.

The divorce court found that, while all of the “amendments” may have been valid, the parties’ rights and duties toward each other are controlled by California law.  The divorce court ordered that Wife receive additional support and assets.  Husband’s divorce lawyer argued on appeal that the second marriage constituted a “reconciliation,” and that as a consequence, no new support obligations arose by virtue of the second marriage because those obligations had already been addressed as it related to their first marriage.  Wife’s divorce lawyer argued that with her second marriage to Husband she acquired new rights regarding the disposition of property and support issues; i.e., the premarital agreement and “amendments” executed before their second marriage only addressed issues related to their first marriage. 

The Supreme Court agreed with Wife’s divorce lawyer and affirmed the divorce court’s order confining the scope of the premarital and successive agreements to apply to the first marriage only, as well as the divorce court’s noting that the agreements did not bind the court in limiting the spousal support award to Wife. 

Barham v. Barham (1949) 33 Cal. 2d 416