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Prenup Woes In Brooklyn Show The Value Of Good Legal Advice

Jacob Gottlieb and Alexandra Lumiere Gottlieb spent nearly two years negotiating the terms of their prenuptial agreement before marrying in 2007.

The Manhattan couple, through their attorneys, traded drafts and revisions from the beginning of their engagement, through one pregnancy, and into a second pregnancy.

Both were represented by experienced independent matrimonial counsel, and when Ms. Lumiere ultimately decided to sign the agreement, she was advised against doing so by her attorney. This is advice she would later regret ignoring, and it would lead to years of court fights before finally being resolved.

The document she signed, in spite of the advice of counsel, granted her a number of concessions in the event of divorce, including $300,000 in maintenance for each year of marriage, an apartment in a full-service doorman building between 60th and 80th Streets and Third Avenue and Broadway above the third floor with one bedroom each for Ms. Lumiere and the couple’s children, and all utilities, moving fees, and other charges associated with the apartment to be paid by Mr. Gottlieb until the children reach the age of majority.

Mr. Gottlieb also agreed to maintain health insurance for Ms. Lumiere until the children were emancipated, and to pay a monthly maintenance fee of $12,500 until the youngest child reached the age of four.

Marital and separate property, including professional licenses and business interests, were clearly assigned in the agreement, and the parties waived equitable distribution.

Instead, any marital property would be divided according to each person’s financial contribution to the property, but neither had claim to any increases in the other’s separate property, including the $30M apartment the couple lived in that belonged to Mr. Gottlieb, or the other’s income earned during the marriage.

Unfortunately, Ms. Lumiere did not insist on a full financial disclosure by her fiance at the time she agreed to sign the prenuptial agreement.

By August 2012, the marriage had broken down, and Mr. Gottlieb filed for divorce, prompting four counterclaims by Ms. Lumiere in her answer.

The first asked the court to declare the prenuptial agreement invalid and unenforceable, with the remainders attacking provisions of the agreement that she asserted were unfair or created in error.

Ultimately, the motion court denied to dismiss only one of Mrs. Gottlieb’s claims, that the terms for maintenance in the agreement were unfair, and held the matter over for trial. Both parties appealed.

New York lawmakers and courts have a strong incentive to encourage and affirm contracts made between two parties, even in the marital sphere.

To do otherwise would introduce an inappropriate level of uncertainty between parties who act in good faith and good conscience in negotiating details meant to produce certainty and harmony in a marriage.

Routinely invalidating prenuptial agreements would create chaos, and lead to constant legal challenges that are expensive and time consuming, in attempts to relitigate freely negotiated terms.

Ms. Lumiere cited many grounds on which to challenge the validity of the prenuptial agreement she signed, including her pregnancy, the lopsided nature of the agreement, and the fact that important financial disclosures were omitted, including her husband’s salary.

By the time of the divorce, she knew that his annual compensation was in the range of $54M, with a total fortune of approximately $188M.

The court found that this omission was not sufficient to invalidate the agreement, since the lifestyle she enjoyed with Mr. Gottlieb prior to the marriage made his wealth clear.

The fact that he had the resources to provide more to her in the divorce was not, in itself, adequate grounds to deem the prenuptial agreement unfair, or the terms that were signed on to by the parties as unconscionable. In addition, the appellate ruling repeatedly cites Ms. Lumiere’s use of matrimonial counsel, and her explicit rejection of that counsel’s advice to continue negotiating rather than signing the prenuptial agreement as drafted in 2007.

As a college educated adult with a professional background, they rejected outright the claim that Mrs. Gottlieb had been hoodwinked by her then-fiance.

In a case like this, most people won’t feel too badly for a wife who walks away from a marriage with $1.6M and free luxury housing and health insurance for the next decade, but it is an important reminder of the value of following good legal advice. Ms. Lumiere’s attorneys clearly felt that they had not arrived at a responsible final agreement when she decided to sign, a position they made clear to her.

Maybe they were continuing to argue for a full financial disclosure, or maybe they just recognized how imbalanced the agreement was based on their years of experience in the field, but in any case, ignoring the clear advice of her lawyers made it impossible for the appellate court to take seriously her claims against the agreement.

One can certainly imagine a much more lucrative settlement on the table if the parties had continued negotiating, which would have saved them both years of court battles.

The appeals process for the challenges to the prenuptial agreement alone took four years, with a huge amount of money spent on the attorneys who argued the case through the system. You are not required to put yourself through this to get a strong, secure, and fair prenuptial agreement or divorce settlement.

The attorneys at Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino are experienced prenuptial agreement negotiators who make sure our clients’ needs are met fully and thoroughly.
When you want the peace of mind that goes with knowing your separate property and your financial well being is protected in the event of a divorce, we can help.

Call 718-725-9601 today for a free consultation with an experienced Brooklyn prenuptial agreement attorney.

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