Though not generally common, every so often, I will be presented with a Denver area divorce case in which the parties have entered into a pre-nuptial agreement prior to getting married. With the ever changing landscape of marriage and divorce, people are getting married at a later age. They are getting remarried with the taste of a nasty divorce fresh in their mouths. They are going into marriage with the knowledge that roughly 1 in every 2 marriages end in divorce. Older people marrying have likely already accumulated some assets or wealth prior to exchanging vows. People married once before have already learned the ins-and-outs of property division and how assets are viewed by Colorado divorce courts. In these instances, people ask, "how can I protect myself and my property in the event of a future divorce?" One answer they arrive at is a pre-nuptial agreement. Assuming the potential new husband or wife finds the courage to raise the issue with his or her significant other, a pre-nuptial agreement can be an effective tool for protecting one's income and assets. Of course, as with any legal issue, there are rules and pitfalls that must be followed or avoided to make sure that agreement will hold water when the time comes to divorce. Hopefully, that time will not come, but one never knows.
In Colorado, pre-nuptial agreements are governed by the Colorado Marital Agreement Act, C.R.S. 14-2-301, et. Seq. Most pre-nuptial agreements primarily deal with issues regarding property and support. Property acquired during the marriage is generally going to be viewed as marital and subject to division in a divorce. Propery owned before the marriage is generally going to be viewed as separate. However, increases in value during the marriage will generally be viewed as marital and subject to division in a divorce. These are the most common issues for which people seek a pre-nuptial agreement, protection of their assets. The other major area in which people seek protection relates to alimony, or more properly, "maintenance." C.R.S. 14-2-304 sets forth the matters which people can "contract" to in a pre-nuptial agreement. Yes, the term "contract" is used, as that is how a court will generally view such an agreement.
C.R.S. 14-2-304 also sets forth other issues that can be dealt with in a pre-nuptial agreement, such as matters related to wills and inheritance, matters related to attorney fees, matters related to choice of law in terms of which state's laws will govern interpretation of the agreement, matters concerning your income and property obtained with it, and basically any other issue which can be agreed to, so long as such an agreement does not violate "public policy."
Under the CMAA, pre-nuptial agreements are deemed to be essentially enforceable contracts, so long as they are drafted in an appropriate fashion. C.R.S. 14-2-307 sets forth certain rules regarding enforceability. A pre-nuptial agreement is not enforceable if is was not entered into "voluntarily." It may also be deemed unenforceable if there was not a fair and reasonable disclosure of property and debt prior to the agreement being signed. Ensuring that an agreement will be upheld will be discussed further below. Divorce attorneys in Denver will be, or should be, aware of these statutory provisions, whether drafting an agreement or litigating the issue of enforceability.