Wife Failed to Meet Her Burden of Showing that the Premarital Agreement Was Involuntary
In 1988, now-controversial baseball slugger Barry Bonds married Susann “Sun” Margreth Blanco, a native of Sweden. The two had met the previous summer in Montreal while Bonds was playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Sun was working as a bartender. The day before they were married, each signed a prenuptial agreement prepared by Bonds’ family law lawyers and agreed that each person’s earnings and acquisitions after marriage would be their respective separate property. Blanco was unemployed and not represented by counsel when she signed the agreement.
In a dissolution of marriage (divorce) action six years later, the divorce court entered a judgment upholding the validity of the prenuptial agreement, finding that Blanco did not meet her burden of showing that she entered into the agreement involuntarily, even though she had not been represented by a divorce attorney and Bonds had been. Blanco’s divorce attorney appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed the divorce court, holding that the agreement was subject to strict scrutiny because Blanco’s lack of representation and the immediacy of the wedding rendered her consent questionable and thus invalidated the agreement. Bonds appealed.
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeal erred in holding that premarital agreements are subject to strict scrutiny where the less sophisticated party does not have independent counsel and has not waived counsel according to exacting waiver requirements. Such a holding was inconsistent with a provision of the Family Code as it existed at the time, which governed the enforceability of premarital agreements. That statute, before it was amended, provided only that a premarital agreement will be enforced unless the party resisting enforcement can demonstrate either that he or she did not enter into the contract voluntarily, or that the contract was unconscionable when entered into. The Court also held that substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that Blanco voluntarily entered into the agreement. The Court further held that considerations applicable to commercial contracts do not necessarily govern the determination of whether a premarital agreement was entered into voluntarily, and that a premarital agreement is not to be interpreted and enforced under the same standards applicable to marital settlement agreements, or in pursuit of the policy favoring equal division of assets on dissolution.
Following this decision, the California legislature swiftly passed what the Los Angeles Times described as “legislation sparked by the bitter 1994 divorce of baseball slugger Barry Bonds and the growing popularity of such accords.” The new statute can currently be found at Family Code section 1615. All California premarital agreements executed after January 1, 2002, are deemed to have been entered into involuntarily unless the court finds that the party resisting enforcement: had independent legal counsel (or properly waived that right); waited at least seven days before signing the agreement; had the legal capacity to enter into the agreement; and did not act under fraud, duress, or undue influence. Therefore, in a complete turnaround from prior law, the party seeking to enforce the agreement bears the burden to prove all of these elements. If the party seeking to uphold the prenuptial agreement fails to prove any of those things, the prenuptial agreement will be found to be invalid.
In re Marriage of Bonds (2000) 24 Cal.4th 1.