The former wife of an Australian property developer has challenged the prenuptial agreement which limited her divorce settlement.
Her ex-husband was worth between $18 million (£10.7 million) and $24 million (£14.3 million) before his death in 2014. They met online in 2006 while she still lived in an undisclosed country in the Middle East. She did not know English well at the time but he spoke her language. The next year he flew out to meet her in person, promising he would marry her if they liked each other.
Prior to the couple’s wedding she signed a prenuptial agreement, which are referred to as “binding financial agreements” in Australia. This put a $50,000 (£29,842) cap on what she would be entitled to if they divorced. Although he was a very wealthy man, he told her: “My money is for my children”.
Their marriage broke down after three years and shortly after they separated, the wife sought to have the prenup overturned. She wanted a $1.24 million (£740,000) settlement including spousal maintenance. The case dragged on even after her ex-husband’s death as his estate continued to fight against the woman’s efforts.
At the Federal Circuit Court she claimed she had been forced to sign the prenup as he had said he would cancel the wedding if she did not. The Court ruled that “every bargaining chip and every power was in [her husband]’s hands” and she did not have any negotiating power. The woman’s “powerlessness [arose] not only from her lack of financial equality, but also from her lack of permanent status in Australia at the time” the Judges declared.
The prenup was overturned but this decision was later reversed on appeal. Now the case is heading to the High Court of Australia, where it is expected to be heard in August. The lawyer representing the wife will argue that the pressure put on her to sign the agreement “whether described as duress, undue influence or unconscionable conduct [was] so overwhelming that it [could not] be resisted”. But the estate’s legal representative is expected to claim that she had legal advice before signing and was not concerned about the amount of money she was entitled to in the event that the couple divorced.