A Party Attacking the Validity of a Prenuptial Agreement Has the Burden of Proof
Cheryl and Chick separated in April 1987 and shortly after filed this action to dissolve the marriage. Chick’s Orange County divorce attorney obtained an order to bifurcate the proceeding and try the validity of a premarital agreement each had signed. During the trial, Chick testified he did not want to get married, but Cheryl testified that Chick brought up the subject of marriage and asked her to marry him. The testimony also differed on the circumstances surrounding Cheryl’s signing of the agreement. Chick testified that Chick’s Orange County divorce attorney read the agreement to them and asked if they understood what was just read to them. Furthermore, Chick testified that his Orange County divorce attorney advised Cheryl to see another attorney to make certain that she wanted to execute the prenuptial agreement. Cheryl testified she never discussed the contents of the agreement with an attorney before she signed it, nor could she recall ever being advised by any attorney about her rights to property that might be acquired during her marriage to Chick. The Orange County divorce court opined that the impetus for the marriage, came almost entirely from Cheryl in this case, and was resisted by Chick.
Based on the Orange County divorce court’s statement, it is reasonably clear that he entertained preconceptions about the parties because of their gender. These perceptions appear to have made it impossible for Cheryl to receive a fair trial. The statement that Cheryl was a “lovely girl” shows gender bias toward her as a witness. The Orange County divorce court did not use a similar description for Chick. Therefore, the resolution of the credibility issues in the cases thus may have been based, at root, on Cheryl’s gender and physical attributes. Additionally, the use of the word “lovely” reveals gender bias, especially in this context when it is used in juxtaposition to “education,” “background in business,” and “material wealth” to indicate Cheryls limited credibility as a witness. Besides the use of language indicating gender bias, the Orange County divorce court also appears to have employed gender-based stereotypes in his decision-making process. The Orange County divorce court’s reasoning appears to have been that “lovely” women are the ones who ask wealthy men who do not look like “Adonis” to marry, and therefore Cheryl was not credible when she testified Chick asked her to marry him. The error here is the application of generality to specific individuals. The gender bias evidenced in the resolution of the validity of the prenuptial contract contaminated not only that issue but the balance of the case which depended on it. The Orange County divorce court’s judgment is therefore reversed and remanded for a new trial on all issues.
Additionally, under Evidence Code Section 500, “A party has the burden of proof as to each fact the existence or nonexistence of which is essential to the claim for relief or defense that he is asserting.” This provision applies to family law proceedings. Furthermore, Civil Code Section 5315 states it “is framed in a manner to require the party who alleges that a premarital agreement is not enforceable to bear the burden of proof as to that allegation….” The Court concluded that the burden of proof is properly placed on the party attacking the validity of the agreement.
In re Marriage of Iverson, 11 Cal.App,4th 1945 (1992).