Barry Bonds’ Case’s Effect On Prenuptial Agreements In California

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  What Happened In Barry Bonds' Case?

The Barry Bonds case is a court case that was decided by California’s Supreme Court in 2000. It is considered one of the most famous prenuptial agreements (“prenups”) cases and has changed the landscape of legal prenups in California since the day the decision was issued.

The case was centered on the 1988 marriage between the San Francisco Giants All-Star baseball player, Barry Bonds, and his then wife, Sun. At the time of their marriage, Barry Bonds had been earning a salary of $106,000 per year. Right before the couple wed, Bonds asked Sun to sign a prenup. The terms of the Barry Bonds’ contract (i.e., the prenup) stated that Sun waived the right to any interest in Bonds’ earnings and acquisitions during the marriage.

Sun signed the prenup without speaking to an attorney first, even though Bond had separately consulted a lawyer and the lawyer was present during the signing. The couple filed for divorce around six years and two children later. Bonds’ salary had increased exponentially since the year when the prenup was originally signed.

Sun sued to have the prenup declared invalid, arguing that the prenup was unenforceable because no lawyer had represented her interests during the signing. Sun also demanded additional funds for both alimony and child support payments.

The case was initially filed with the Superior Court of San Mateo County who ruled in favor of Bonds. Sun then appealed to the California Court of Appeal who reversed the lower court’s decision. Bonds appealed that decision and eventually the case was decided in favor of Bonds at the Supreme Court level.

The California Supreme Court concluded that the prenup was valid and voluntarily entered into by both parties. Thus, the Court found it was fair to enforce its terms.

What Was California Law Regarding Prenuptial Agreements Prior To Bonds’ Case?

Prior to the Barry Bonds court case, California law recognized prenups signed by both spouses as valid and enforceable, even if the spouses were not represented by their own separate lawyers.

Given Bonds’ celebrity status, the case gained much attention from the public whose interest seemed to grow with each appeal. It is speculated that the public agreed with Sun’s sentiments.

Lawmakers must have also sided with Sun and public opinion because soon the final decision had spurred new legislation. Specifically, California Family Code Section 1615, is a statute that provides the requirements needed to create a valid prenup in California.

What Effect Does This Case Have On Spouses Wishing To Create Prenuptial Agreements Prior To Getting Married In California?

As previously discussed, the Bonds case inspired California legislators to make changes to state laws regarding prenups and their requirements. Couples who wish to form and sign a valid prenup before getting married in California must comply with the following:

  • The parties must enter into the agreement voluntarily and the agreement must not be unconscionable;
  • Both parties must be represented by their own attorneys, unless a party waives the attorney requirement as part of a written statement;
  • If a party chooses to waive the attorney requirement, the other party must provide a written summary of the terms and effects of the prenup to the party waiving legal representation; and
  • Finally, there is now a seven day waiting period from when the parties are first shown the prenup to when they are allowed to sign it (i.e., seven days after the prenup is initially presented).

Are Prenuptial Agreements in California Enforceable?

Under California state family laws, a prenup will generally be enforceable, so long as it is formed in accordance with all requirements. For instance, as is the case with any type of contract, the parties must voluntarily agree to sign a prenup and accept its terms. If one or both parties are coerced, deceived, intimidated, or under duress when signing, then the prenup will be considered invalid and thus will be unenforceable.

Other items that may affect the enforceability of a prenup include:

  • Terms concerning child custody and/or child support payments;
  • Failure to follow all legal requirements (e.g., written statement waiving attorney representation, not disclosing all assets and debts, etc.);
  • Statements that either promote divorce or conditions that trigger grounds for divorce;
  • Conditions that require a spouse to commit illegal acts; and
  • Terms that are unfair, deceptive, exploitive, and/or unjust.

In addition, a prenup must also conform to the technical aspects provided by California’s Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (“UPAA”). According to the UPAA, a valid prenup must:

  • Be in writing, contain the voluntary signatures of both spouses, and be notarized (note that oral prenups are unenforceable);
  • All terms and/or conditions listed in the prenup must be legal;
  • The parties must wait at least seven days before signing a prenup and use the time to seek separate counsel;
  • If a party does not want to hire an attorney, they must provide a written statement saying as much; and
  • Several lesser, but necessary requirements, which can be found in the relevant state statutes.

How Do I Terminate a Prenuptial Agreement in California?

Although terminating a prenup is generally not recommended, the spouses may be able to cancel their agreement in several ways. The ideal way to terminate a prenup is if both parties agree to voluntarily cancel and sign a termination agreement. This process involves the same or similar steps as to what is required to create a prenup.

Another way to terminate a prenup is by reviewing the prenup for flaws. For instance, if one of the spouses was forced to sign the prenup against their will, or if a party failed to disclose all of their debts and assets, then the prenup may be invalid and unenforceable on its own.

Additionally, some prenup agreements will contain a specific provision known as a “sunset clause”. A sunset clause provides an expiration date that may be triggered when a specific event occurs or if it reaches a certain date that the couple agreed upon to end the prenup. For example, the couple may decide that they want the prenup to expire after they return from their honeymoon, or alternatively, on the date of their fifth wedding anniversary.

Finally, although the Barry Bonds case did not involve the termination of a prenup, the case has indirectly impacted the termination process because of all the requirements that must be met now to form a valid and enforceable prenup.

Should I Hire a California Lawyer for Help with a Prenuptial Agreement Issue?

If you are involved in a dispute over a prenuptial agreement or wish to draft one, it is strongly recommended that you retain your own counsel. Hiring a California family attorney will not only help satisfy the requirements of various California prenup laws, but can also protect you from signing a prenup that does not benefit you and may be useful in identifying terms that should have been included.

Failing to retain a lawyer before signing a prenup can hurt your chances of claiming a prenup is unfair later on. Remember, the laws say that a person must provide a written statement voluntarily waiving their right to have an attorney present and will be given a summary of the prenup in layman’s terms by the other party. Thus, it is better to have an attorney review the prenup and discuss any issues before signing, than to fight these variables in a future conflict.

Additionally, an experienced family attorney can also help you draft an initial prenup agreement, making sure that all requirements are met and that a court will consider the prenup to be valid and legally enforceable. Lastly, if there is a dispute over the prenup that requires you to appear in court, your attorney can provide representation.

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