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Are prenuptial agreements enforceable in Washington?

Prenuptial agreements have become more frequent in the last twenty years, and many engaged couples wonder if such agreements are enforceable in Washington and if they should sign one. The answer to both questions is "It depends." Premarital agreements are enforceable if they meet certain standards laid down by the state's appellate courts, and the advisability of entering into such an agreement depends upon the financial circumstances of the marrying couple.

Unlike most states, Washington has not adopted a statute governing the enforceability of premarital agreements. Instead, the courts have worked out a case-by-case test. Premarital agreements are contracts, and their enforceability is judged by rules applicable to other contracts. The agreement must be in writing and fully understood by both parties. The agreement must be fair, considering the circumstances of both parties. Both parties must make full disclosure about their assets, and hiding information about assets or other fraudulent conduct can render a premarital contract void. A breach of one or more provisions of the agreement can also render the contract unenforceable.

The second question can only be answered by the potential spouses. The most common use of premarital agreements is in the case of a second (or third) marriage by one or both persons. A person who has acquired significant property may wish to protect these assets from the effect of Washington's community property laws. Another couple may wish to specify the terms of any possible divorce, including the payment of alimony and child support. Most knowledgeable family lawyers will recommend a premarital agreement to clarify financial issues that could arise during the course of the marriage.

Anyone with questions about a premarital agreement should consult a capable family lawyer for advice before signing the agreement. In addition, premarital agreements should be drafted by lawyers because the terms can be subtle and complex.