Marriage of Melissa

Prenuptial Agreement and Spousal Support Waivers

Marriage of Melissa (2012, Orange County)

The Orange County family law appellate case of Marriage of Raymond and Roberta Melissa concerns the issue of a 1985 prenuptial agreement signed by Raymond and Roberta Melissa and whether Roberta’s spousal support waiver was enforceable.

The issue was rather simple.

First, in 1985, California law deemed spousal support waiver agreements to be invalid. The question the appellate court was asked to answer was whether, today, the 1985 law should apply.

The Orange County trial court judge, Claudia Silbar, ruled that the 1985 law did apply and deemed the spousal support waiver invalid as a result.

Raymond Melissa appealed.

The spousal support waiver provision stated:

“Each of the parties acknowledge that while the case of In re Marriage of Higgason (1973) 10 [Cal.3d] 476 (Higgason) . . . provides that the potential for the future right of spousal support cannot be waived by an agreement, the parties acknowledge that the law (relating to the authority of individuals to enter into contracts as such authority is [a]ffected by the marital status of the parties) is in a state of flux (e.g. Marvin v Marvin [(1976) 18 Cal.3d 660 (Marvin)]). The parties do specifically state and acknowledge that each is currently capable of supporting himself or herself and that neither party is entering the marital relationship with the expectancy of developing reliance upon the earning capacity of the other. Therefore, for mutual consideration of this waiver and of the expected marriage, each party mutually releases the other and waives any potential future rights which would have or may have accrued for spousal support in the event of a legal separation, dissolution of marriage, or action therefore. The parties further agree that at anytime either changes his or her intention to become reliant upon the earnings of the other, notice of such change in intent shall be given to the other in writing.”

This is an interesting provision because it acknowledges the law at that time as being against any spousal support waiver but tries to claim the state of the law as being in a “flux”. Was it? I suppose interpretation of case law is often a matter of opinion but the opinion of this “flux” at that time appears far-fetched.

Judge Claudia Silbar agreed and stated that the law was very clear that spousal support waivers were void against public policy in 1985. The Court also ruled that the legislative changes that followed (allowing spousal support waivers under certain circumstances) could not be retroactively applied to the 1985 prenuptial agreement.

The appellate court, after going through a nice history of spousal support waivers in prenuptial agreements and the development of the law over time, agreed with Judge Silbar and rejected Raymond Melissa’s arguments, including his claim that the subsequent legislation should apply to the 1985 agreement.

In re marriage of Melissa is an interesting case for two reasons – first, it provides a detailed history of California law on the issue of prenuptial agreements and spousal support waivers. Second, it makes clear once again that, on the issue of prenuptial agreements, the law in effect at the time of the agreement controls.

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