[974 N.Y.S.2d 747] Parola & Gross, LLP, Wantagh, for Plaintiff.
Winter & Grossman, PLLC, Garden City, for Defendant.
LEONARD D. STEINMAN, J.
On April 17, 2012, plaintiff E.C. (" Husband" ), filed this action for divorce from his wife of twenty-six years, defendant L.C. (" Wife" ). Husband seeks a judgment of divorce incorporating a Marital Separation Agreement and Property Settlement [974 N.Y.S.2d 748] Agreement dated April 12, 2010 (" the Agreement" ). Wife has asserted counterclaims and also seeks a judgment of divorce, but on different terms. Wife asserts the Agreement should be disregarded on various grounds and demands an equitable distribution of the parties' marital property, maintenance, child support and additional relief.
On February 6, 2013, this court denied Wife's motion for summary judgment and ordered a hearing to determine the validity of the Agreement. The hearing was held on May 13, 17, 21 and 29, 2013. At the conclusion of the testimony the court reserved decision pending the submission of post-hearing memoranda, which were submitted by both Husband and Wife on June 18, 2013.
The court finds, for the reasons set forth below, that the parties' Agreement is valid and enforceable. Wife has not sustained her burden of establishing that the Agreement was abandoned, was induced by fraud or the product of overreaching.
The parties were married on June 7, 1986. They have three children, ages 24, 20 and 19. Husband is 55 years old and works as a computer technician for Hitachi, where he earns approximately $90,000 per annum. He has an associates degree from SUNY Farmingdale.
Wife is 52 years old and is employed by Hofstra University as an administrative assistant, where she earns approximately $27,000 per annum. Wife has a B.A. from Hofstra University. At the time of the parties' marriage in 1986, Wife was employed as an ad buyer for Doyle Dane Bernbach earning $30,000 per annum. In January 1990 Wife left that position to concentrate on raising the parties' children. Wife began working for Hofstra as a part-time secretary in 2001 and began working on a full-time basis in 2003. Because of her position at Hofstra, all of the parties' children have attended college there tuition-free. In addition to her job at Hofstra, Wife is a licensed real estate broker. In 2010, Wife earned approximately $20,000 in real estate commissions (before expenses). In 2011, this amount decreased to approximately $8,200.
The parties' marriage broke down in January 2010 when Husband became convinced that Wife was having an affair. One evening, Wife did not return to the marital home and Husband caught her lying about her whereabouts. When confronted, Wife suggested that the parties divorce. In response, Husband suggested that the parties return to a marriage counseling retreat they had visited in 2009. Wife demurred and moved out of the marital bedroom.
Two or three weeks later, Wife followed up on her suggestion that the parties divorce and handed to Husband a copy of the Agreement. Wife utilized a form agreement that she obtained from an internet website. Wife suggested to Husband that they immediately sign the Agreement and then convert the Agreement into a divorce when their youngest child graduated high school, in approximately two years.
Husband, still hopeful that the parties could reconcile, did not review the Agreement immediately. The following month, he approached Wife and let her know he would sign it. Husband made and requested no changes to the Agreement. Neither party made any financial disclosures to the other. There was no attorney involvement. Two days later, on April 12, 2010, the parties separately drove to a bank and before a notary public together signed the Agreement. That very day, Wife filed the Agreement with the Nassau County Clerk's office.
[974 N.Y.S.2d 749] Discussion
New York law protects the rights of parties to enter into agreements relating to their marital relations. See Domestic Relations Law § 236(B)(3) (" An agreement by the parties, made before or during the marriage, shall be valid and enforceable in a matrimonial action ..." ). Duly executed separation agreements are generally valid and enforceable. Van Kipnis v. Van Kipnis, 11 N.Y.3d 573, 872 N.Y.S.2d 426, 900 N.E.2d 977 (2008). When presented with legal challenges to marital agreements, our courts have recognized that there is a " strong public policy favoring individuals ordering and deciding their own interests through contractual arrangements." Bloomfield v. Bloomfield, 97 N.Y.2d 188, 193, 738 N.Y.S.2d 650, 764 N.E.2d 950 (2001), quoting Matter of Greiff, 92 N.Y.2d 341, 344, 680 N.Y.S.2d 894, 703 N.E.2d 752 (1998). " Judicial review is to be exercised circumspectly, sparingly and with a persisting view to the encouragement of parties settling their own differences...." Christian v. Christian, 42 N.Y.2d 63, 71, 396 N.Y.S.2d 817, 365 N.E.2d 849 (1977).
While the law has long favored marital agreements and seeks to uphold them ( see DeCicco v. Schweitzer, 221 N.Y. 431, 439, 117 N.E. 807 (1917)), marital agreements are not immune from the public policy considerations that engage the attention and oversight of the courts. See Matter of Greiff, 92 N.Y.2d at 345, 680 N.Y.S.2d 894, 703 N.E.2d 752 (marital agreements are not insulated from " typical contract avoidances" ). Courts have " thrown their cloak of protection" over marital agreements " to see to it that they are arrived at fairly and equitably, in a manner so as to be free from the taint of fraud and duress, and to set aside or refuse to enforce those born of and ...