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Wife of US millionaire has pre-nuptial agreement torn up

The estranged wife of a US millionaire has persuaded a court to throw out the prenuptial agreement she signed prior her wedding in 1998.

Elizabeth Cioffi-Petrakis claimed her husband, a property developer on Long Island, coerced her into signing the agreement four days before the wedding. An appeal court in Brooklyn has now upheld an earlier ruling that that her husband Peter Petrakis had “fraudulently induced” her to sign the prenuptial agreement, and declaring his “credibility to be suspect”. The prenup meant her husband would keep all the marital assets in his name in the event of a split.

The pair will now commence divorce proceedings, the New York Post reports.

Cioffi-Petrakis described the prenup as an “a knife in my heart from day one”. She insisted that Peter Petrakis had threatened to cancel the wedding if she did not sign, despite the fact that her father had already paid $40,000 for the reception. She and pursued her claim through the courts for seven years, sometimes appearing as a litigant in person.

She told the Post: “He told me he would rip it up as soon as we had kids. But he never did. The reason this happened was I was an advocate for myself and I didn’t give up.’’

Her lawyer described the appeal court ruling as “unprecedented, vacating a pre-nup on the basis of a verbal promise.”

The lawyer added:

“It resets the bar. It’s an entirely different landscape out there in regard to prenups. I’ve been inundated with calls. Spouses who are challenging pre-nups now have a leg to stand on.”

Cioffi-Petrakis has now launched a business counselling people going through a divorce who have signed prenuptial agreements.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Stephanie Bamberger says:

    I will look up the appellate opinion online to review it, but based just on what you mentioned here, a California court likely would have done the same thing if she had not been represented by counsel throughout the negotiations on the pre-nuptial. When one party is unrepresented, California law requires that party be given 7 days to review the agreement prior to signing it (so at least 7 days before the wedding).

  2. Marc Kaplan says:

    Colorado law allows this result, as well. If one party signs under duress, the agreement is not enforceable. Spouses can also orally modify a written agreement. If there is a dispute it all depends on who is believed, based in large part on their behaviors. Still, it is very difficult to get around a pre or post-nuptial agreement if there is full disclosure. Having attorneys helps to avoid a duress claim, but it is not required.

  3. Lukey says:

    It’s pretty clear what to take from this – pre-nups might be better than nothing but they are notoriously unreliable.

    If you are the wealthier partner and don’t want to lose 50%+ of your assets on a whim (plus spousal support of course) the answer is simple:

    DON’T sign a marriage certificate.

  4. caleb says:

    i used to think that pre-nups were a sue deal. but from this, i don’t know how the rich can protect themselves from gold diggers; no offense. thanks.

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