Simeone v. Simeone
581 A.2d 162 (Penn. 1990)

Facts:

  • At the time of their marriage in 1975, Catherine E. Walsh Simeone was an unemployed twenty-three year old nurse and Frederick A. Simeone (appellee) was a thirty-nine year old neurosurgeon making $90,000 per year.
    • Frederick also had assets totaling around $300,000.
  • On the eve of the parties’ wedding, with Frederick’s attorney present, Catherine signed a prenuptial agreement without the benefit of counsel.
  • The agreement limited appellant to support payments of $200 per week in the event of separation or divorce, subject to a maximum total payment of $25,000.
  • The parties separated in 1982, and, in 1984, divorce proceedings were commenced (at which time Frederick had already paid out his $25k).
  • In 1985, appellant filed a claim for alimony pendente lite.
    • This is alimony granted pending a suit for divorce or separation.

History:

  • The Court of Common Pleas upheld master’s report finding prenuptial agreement was valid and denied claim.
  • The Superior Court affirmed.

Issues:
(1) Whether the agreement was binding despite wife’s contention that she didn’t fully understand it and wasn’t represented by counsel.
(2) Whether the agreement was executed under conditions of duress.

Holdings:
(1) Yes.
(2) No.
Affirmed.

Reasoning:
(1) The court noted the fact that society is different today – women are of equal status to men and no longer regarded as the weaker, homemakers of the marriage. Thus, women are not entitled to any presumptions regarding their knowledge (or lack thereof) of contracts, and prenuptial agreements should be evaluated under the same criteria as other contracts.

  • Here, there was a full and fair disclosure of Frederick’s assets, so Catherine couldn’t argue material misrepresentation.
  • Moreover, to impose a per se requirement that parties entering a prenuptial agreement must obtain independent legal counsel would be contrary to traditional principles of contract law, and would constitute a paternalistic and unwarranted interference with the parties’ freedom to enter contracts.

(2) Despite the fact that the agreement was signed on the eve of the wedding, there was evidence that this was an ongoing process that started six months prior to the wedding. Thus, the court held that there was ample time for Catherine to consult an attorney.

Rule: Prenuptial agreements are contracts, and, as such, should be evaluated under same criteria as are applicable to other types of contracts; absent fraud, misrepresentation, or duress, spouses should be bound by terms of their agreements.

Rule: Prenuptial agreements are NOT void on the grounds that the wife did not consult with independent legal counsel prior to executing agreement.

Rule: Reasonableness of prenuptial bargain is NOT proper subject for judicial review.