Nashville Attorney Lisa Ewing


Prenuptial agreements are agreements between parties contemplating marriage that alter or confirm the legal rights and obligations that would otherwise arise under the laws governing marriages that end either through divorce or death. Prenuptial agreements are nothing new. King Edward IV reportedly had a prenuptial agreement with Eleanor Butler sometime between 1461 and 1464.Tennessee has not enacted the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act-approved by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws as an attempt to streamline prenuptial agreement laws throughout the country. Tennessee statutes authorize prenuptial agreements through a signed writing, and, as a general rule, Tennessee courts enforce a prenuptial agreement if the party seeking enforcement demonstrates that the agreement was entered into freely, knowledgeably, and in good faith and without the exertion of duress or undue influence. But consider the case of O’Daniel v. O’Daniel.
The O’Daniel decision
The parties were married on October 14, 2006. Four days earlier, they executed a prenuptial agreement that provided, in part, that, with limited exceptions, as follows:In the event the marriage is terminated by divorce, annulment, or any other means other than the death of a party after five years of marriage has passed, … to the extent allowed by law, each of the parties shall waive any right of support, maintenance or temporary alimony which he or she may be entitled to receive from the other as provided by law.At the time of the marriage, the wife worked a few jobs, mainly clerical receptionist, front-desk work. The wife did not work outside the home during the parties’ approximately five-and-one-half-year marriage. The husband was a successful businessman of considerable wealth. At the time of their marriage ceremony, both parties were generally in good health. Approximately one year after the date of the marriage, however, the wife was diagnosed with a rare and potentially life-threatening medical condition. On three occasions during the marriage the wife had to be hospitalized as a result of her condition, each time for an extended period of time. The medical bills totaled $431,043.62. Of this amount, their health insurance paid $134,498.83, and the parties paid $11,117.65.

The wife filed for divorce in 2011 and alleged that the prenuptial agreement was valid and enforceable, with the exception of the provision waiving any right of support, maintenance or temporary alimony. The wife asked the court to invalidate this alimony waiver because its enforcement was likely, according to her, to render her a public charge. Both the husband and the wife admitted they entered into the agreement freely and knowingly. But the wife testified that she could not afford to pay her health insurance premiums. She argued that if she did not have health insurance, her next infection was likely to render her bankrupt and reliant on public assistance for her medical needs and her survival. The trial court found that, without health insurance, it was likely to result in the wife becoming a public charge in the reasonably foreseeable future.” The appellate court agreed and invalidated the provision limiting spousal support.

Anyone contemplating a prenuptial agreement should seek experienced Tennessee legal counsel for advice and care in drafting the document as there are many legal considerations that impact the interpretation and enforce-ability of such agreements.