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Galetta v. Galetta

Court of Appeals of New York

May 30, 2013

Michelle GALETTA, Appellant,
v.
Gary GALETTA, Respondent.

Page 187

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 188

[969 N.Y.S.2d 827] Barney & Affronti, LLP, Rochester (Francis C. Affronti of counsel), for appellant.

Kathleen P. Reardon, Rochester, for respondent.

Page 189

OPINION

GRAFFEO, J.

[991 N.E.2d 685] In this matrimonial action, plaintiff Michelle Galetta sought a determination that a prenuptial agreement she and defendant Gary Galetta signed was invalid due to a defective acknowledgment. Because we conclude that plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment declaring the agreement to be unenforceable under Domestic Relations Law § 236(B)(3), we reverse the order of the Appellate Division, which held there was a triable question of fact on that issue.

Michelle Galetta and Gary Galetta were married in July 1997. About a week before the wedding, they each separately signed a prenuptial agreement. Neither party was present when the other executed the document and the signatures were witnessed by different notaries public. The agreement had apparently been prepared by Gary's attorney; Michelle elected not to be represented by counsel. In substance, the parties agreed that their separate property, as listed on attached addenda, would remain separate and not subject to equitable distribution in the event of dissolution of the marriage. They also decided that neither would seek maintenance from the other. It is undisputed that the signatures on the document are authentic and there is

Page 190

no claim that the [991 N.E.2d 686] [969 N.Y.S.2d 828] agreement was procured through fraud or duress.

The parties' signatures and the accompanying certificates of acknowledgment are set forth on a single page of the document. The certificates appear to have been typed at the same time, with spaces left blank for dates and signatures that were to be filled in by hand. The certificate of acknowledgment relating to Michelle's signature contains the boilerplate language typical of the time. However, in the acknowledgment relating to Gary's signature, a key phrase was omitted and, as a result, the certificate fails to indicate that the notary public confirmed the identity of the person executing the document or that the person was the individual described in the document. The record does not reveal how this error occurred and apparently no one noticed the omission until the issue was raised in this litigation.

In 2010, defendant husband filed for divorce. Plaintiff wife subsequently commenced this separate action seeking a divorce and a declaration that the prenuptial agreement was unenforceable. The wife moved for summary judgment on the request for declaratory relief, contending that the agreement was invalid because Domestic Relations Law § 236(B)(3) compels that prenuptial agreements be executed with the same formality as a recorded deed and the certificate of acknowledgment relating to the husband's signature did not comport with Real Property Law requirements. The husband opposed the motion, asserting that the prenuptial agreement was enforceable because the language of the acknowledgment substantially complied with the Real Property Law. He submitted an affidavit from the notary public who had witnessed his signature in 1997 and executed the certificate of acknowledgment. The notary, an employee of a local bank where the husband then did business, averred that it was his custom and practice, prior to acknowledging a signature, to confirm the identity of the signer and assure that the signer was the person named in the document. He stated in the affidavit that he presumed he had followed that practice before acknowledging the husband's signature.

Supreme Court denied the wife's motion for summary judgment, reasoning that the acknowledgment of the husband's signature substantially complied with the requirements of the Real Property Law. In a divided decision, the Appellate Division affirmed the order denying summary judgment on a different rationale (96 A.D.3d 1565, 947 N.Y.S.2d 260 ...


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