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Marriage Contracts & Undue Influence: What are your next steps

When you enter a marriage in Canada, you are entering an agreement of mutual trust with your partner. This requires mutual consent. What happens if you are coerced into signing a prenup agreement? This is called undue influence, and it can invalidate the contract. In this article, we will discuss undue influence, what happens if you are unduly influenced and your options.

What Is Undue Influence?

Undue influence is a legal term that refers to the situation where one party uses improper pressure or influence to invalidate a contract, will or other agreement. This happens when someone takes advantage of their position of power, trust, or authority to manipulate another party into agreeing to something that is not in their best interest or against their free will. This goes beyond manipulation to coercion.

Here is an example of the difference between manipulation and coercion:

  • Manipulation: An individual may not have been originally convinced they wanted a prenup; however, after months of convincing, they finally decide it is in their best interest to sign a prenup.
  • Coercion: An individual understands that they do not want to get a prenup, but they do not have another choice.

Can you be unduly influenced into a marriage?

Marriages are not contracts in Canada; they are a mutual agreement between two people. This means that proof of undue influence cannot void a marriage. However, if one party was forced into the marriage against their will, whether by threats of violence, withholding finances or other means, it may be grounds for a divorce. Each situation is unique, so it is important to speak with a lawyer before making any decisions.

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Signing a Marriage Contract Under Undue Influence

While marriages themselves are not contracts in Canada, marriage contracts, sometimes called prenuptial agreements, are common. The purpose of a prenuptial agreement is to protect both spouses should a marriage end in divorce or separation. Within the prenuptial agreement, you and your spouse are agreeing to the terms of your property separation if your marriage ends. This is common for couples who have large differences in their finances or who are business owners. The agreement may also alter entitlements to spousal support.

However, prenuptial agreements can also provide an opportunity for undue influence if one spouse is coerced to sign. Sometimes, as a wedding approaches, one spouse will pressure another to sign a prenuptial agreement. Without the proper time to discuss the agreement and the closely approaching wedding, sometimes one spouse will find that they are left without an option but to sign the prenuptial agreement.

To discuss your specific situation with an experienced Family Lawyer, contact Epstein & Associates for your free consultation.

Next Steps: Consult a Lawyer

The first and most important step if you believe you have signed a marriage contract under undue influence is to consult a lawyer who specializes in family law and marital contracts. Your lawyer will review the terms of your contract and assess your rights and legal options. It is important to know that every case is different, so your lawyer will take the time to understand the circumstances surrounding your marriage contract. The actions you take next will depend on your particular situation.

After you have met with your lawyer and discussed your case, you may decide to challenge the validity of your contract. Toscano v. Toscano 2015 ONSC 487 finds that “At common law, a domestic contract, like other contracts, can be set aside for unconscionability, undue influence, mistake, repudiation, duress and misrepresentation.” This means that if your lawyer can prove undue influence, your prenuptial agreement will no longer be valid.

Protecting Against Undue Influence

Safeguarding against undue influence in prenuptial agreements requires proactive measures, fairness, and transparency. Couples can protect their rights and interests by taking these steps:

  1. Start early: Having adequate time to review a marriage contract before signing is essential to understand the full terms and conditions of the agreement. This gives you the time to consider and negotiate the contract before you sign.
  2. Seek independent legal advice: You should consult with your own lawyer, separate from your fiancé, to review the terms of the agreement to ensure that you are protected.
  3. Consider Mediation: If conflicts arise during the negotiation process, consider engaging a neutral mediator to facilitate constructive communication and resolution.

Learn how to talk to your fiancé about a prenuptial agreement.

Prenuptial agreements can be useful for couples to safeguard their assets and clarify financial arrangements before marriage. However, these agreements are not immune to the risks of undue influence. It’s important for couples to recognize and protect themselves against undue influence to ensure that their prenuptial agreements are fair, enforceable, and reflect their mutual interests and intentions. A prenuptial agreement should strengthen the relationship by encouraging open communication and trust rather than perpetuating power imbalances or coercion.

If you want to learn more about marriage contracts and undue influence, contact Epstein & Associates for your FREE consultation.