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Couple’s Arranged Marriage Dowry Serves as an Enforceable Prenuptial Agreement

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This week, the New York Post featured an article entitled “Judge Lets Couple’s Arranged-Marriage Dowry Serve as Prenup”, written by Julia Marsh. According to the article, a Staten Island judge is using an arranged-marriage dowry to bar the wife from asserting a claim for equitable division of money and property acquired during the marriage.

H.T. (whose initials are being used to protect his confidentiality) is an oncologist at Brookdale Hospital. In 2007, he married A.E., a woman fourteen years younger then him, as part of an arranged marriage agreement between the couple’s parents. In exchange for the giving up their daughter, A.E.’s family received $5,000.00 in the form of a dowry. For those unfamiliar with Islamic culture, dowry, also known as bride price, is a sum of money or quantity of goods given to a bride’s parents by that of the groom or his family.

In addition to the $5,000.00 to her family, A.E. was promised $20,000.00 in what is known as a deferred dowry, in the event of divorce. The terms of this agreement were outlined in an Islamic marriage certificate. In addition, H.T. purchased a “how to” book in order to memorialize the arrangement into a prenuptial agreement, which A.E. signed.

In 2013, H.T. filed for divorce from A.E. He argued that his wife was only entitled to the $20,000.00 promised as deferred dowry, and not a portion of his income acquired throughout the marriage. In response, A.E. claimed that the prenuptial agreement should be invalidated because it is “unconscionable” and based on fraud. Unconscionability is a doctrine borrowed from contract law that describes terms that are so extremely unjust, or overwhelmingly one-sided in favor of the party who has the superior bargaining power, that they are contrary to good conscience. A.E. argued that because she did not know that her husband was making over $275,000.00 a year, the agreement should have been invalidated based on both unconscionability and fraud.

Unfortunately for A.E., the Staten Island judge did not agree with her argument. Judge Catherine DiDomenico rejected A.E.’s motion to overturn the prenuptial agreement claiming the she, although Egyptian-born and jobless, had an American education and could have hired a lawyer to review the document prior to signing. This means that a measly $20,000 is all A.E. will get in the divorce action. According to Michael Stutman, head of family law division at an uninvolved local law firm, “the ruling underscores how dangerous prenuptial agreements are.”

Are you interested in signing a prenuptial agreement? Are you considering divorce but worried about how a premarital agreement between you and your spouse will affect your rights at dissolution? With over two decades of experience, The Law Offices of Jay D. Raxenberg, P.C. can help. Jay and his team possess the knowledge and skill to help you navigate through complex matrimonial issues such as prenuptial and post nuptial agreements, divorce, separation, child custody, visitation, equitable distribution, maintenance, child support, and domestic violence. Please call(516) 491-0565.

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