Statements of intent and acknowledgments in postmarital agreements have generally been regarded as merely boilerplate language without much substance, but the Court’s recent ruling in In re: Marriage of Burkle suggests that statements of intent and acknowledgments may be crucial in enforcing a postmarital agreement. Jan Burkle, the former wife of Ron Burkle, a supermarket billionaire from Beverly Hills with a personal wealth of over two billion dollars, was unsuccessful in her attempt to have the couple’s postmarital agreement invalidated.
Postmarital agreements are agreements that are entered into between spouses during marriage without the expectation that the spouses will dissolve the marriage. Spouses in an ongoing marriage for whom spousal separation or termination of the marriage is not an issue may wish to make an express agreement for a variety of reasons such as to clarify their ownership of property, to change the character of property from separate to community or vice versa, or to amend or revoke a premarital agreement.
In 1997 Ron and Jan Burkle entered into a postmarital agreement that included an acknowledgment by Ms. Burkle that she understood the agreement, as well as a certification by Ms. Burkle’s attorney that he had explained to his client the full effect of the agreement. When Ms. Burkle filed a petition for dissolution for marriage in 2003 she claimed that the postmarital agreement was invalid. Ms. Burkle argued at trial that she did not sign the agreement freely because at the time she was suffering from depression and was emotionally dependent upon Mr. Burkle.
Based upon the certifications and acknowledgments in the agreement, and also because of the unreasonable amount of time that had elapsed before Ms. Burkle complained about the agreement, the court held the postmarital agreement to be valid. This opinion illustrates the importance of acknowledgments that the parties fully understand the agreements they are signing. Additionally, postmarital agreements are more likely to be enforced if the parties are represented by experienced family law attorneys, as were Mr. and Ms. Burkle. Unfortunately for Ms. Burkle the agreement contained her acknowledgment that she had been given a full disclosure of Mr. Burkle’s assets and that she understood the effect of the agreement she was signing. Ms. Burkle will have to settle for the$30 million she was awarded upon dissolution of marriage pursuant to the postmarital agreement.