Where plaintiff and her now-deceased husband signed a premarital agreement in which each party disavowed any interest in the other’s assets, the agreement is enforceable despite plaintiff’s arguments that she did not voluntarily make the agreement and that it is unconscionable.
Before Mr. Bernard Joiner (Mr. Joiner) and Oyunchimeg Munhuu, the plaintiff in this case, were married, they executed a premarital agreement.
“The premarital agreement, amongst other things, provided both parties fully disclosed their financial condition, waived each party’s right to equitable distribution, and stated upon the death of either party, the ‘surviving spouse shall have no claim or right to receive any asset of the decedent’ unless provided otherwise in the decedent’s will.”
About one and a half years after the September 2019 wedding, Mr. Joiner died without a will and with a $6 million estate. Mr. Joiner’s estate administrator is his son, Andrew, the defendant in this case. “As administrator, Defendant transferred most of the estate assets to himself.”
Plaintiff seeks a declaration that the agreement is invalid. By agreement, defendant was removed as the estate administrator.
The court has conducted a bench trial and now rules that “the premarital agreement at issue valid and enforceable.”
“[A] premarital agreement is not enforceable if the person against whom enforcement is sought proves:
“The Virginia Court of Appeals, in Chaplain v. Chaplain, affirmed the trial court’s determination the premarital agreement executed between a husband and wife was voluntary. …
“The wife challenged the premarital agreement between the parties in part based on her inability to speak and understand English proficiently. … However, the evidence presented at trial [in Chaplain] established she spoke and understood English, even if it may have been somewhat broken. …
“The [Chaplain] Court further agreed the evidence showed while the husband was an older and more successful businessman, at the time of signing the wife was still forty, college educated, and financially independent. … Nothing prevented the wife from getting independent legal advice before signing if she wished, and there was no time pressure coercing her into signing. …
“[T]he Court affirmed the trial court’s finding the agreement was voluntarily executed. …
In this case, “[p]laintiff has failed to meet the burden of showing the premarital agreement was involuntary under the factors identified in Chaplain and its progeny.”
“Regarding inequality in bargaining power, the evidence presented established Plaintiff was eighteen years younger than Mr. Joiner but was well-educated and financially independent. Plaintiff is fluent in Mongolian and held herself out as proficient in English. …
“While Plaintiff called her sister or daughter to translate on occasion, she did not consistently require their use and spoke a mix of English and Mongolian with her daughter.
Most notably to the Court, Plaintiff did not use her translator for the entirety of trial. … The evidence presented at trial established Plaintiff, like the plaintiff in Chaplain, had a ‘sufficient grasp of English such no language barrier prevented her from communicating … or from reading and understanding the agreement’ executed by Plaintiff and Mr. Joiner. …
“While Mr. Joiner was older and had far more assets to his name, Plaintiff had an advanced degree in economics and successfully ran her own business. She lived independently in the United States for thirteen years before meeting Mr. Joiner. Accordingly, the Court finds Plaintiff was not coerced into signing the agreement due to an inequality in bargaining power.”
“The premarital agreement executed by Plaintiff and Mr. Joiner stated it was made with full and complete disclosure of the financial condition of each party. … Plaintiff bears the burden of proving the recitation was false.
“The series of emails exchanged between Mr. Joiner and Ms. Leiser [who prepared the agreement], occasionally including Plaintiff, illustrate disclosure occurred in conformity with the recitation provided in the agreement.”
“Although the premarital agreement between the couple was executed six days prior to marriage, it did not make the agreement involuntary. The marriage was not scheduled until after the signing of the premarital agreement and occurred only when the parties voluntarily showed up to the courthouse. …
“The premarital agreement was no surprise to Plaintiff, as discussions about having a premarital agreement occurred as early as July 2019, only two months after getting engaged.”
“Plaintiff had the opportunity to consult with independent counsel but chose not to do so. Plaintiff knew of the desire for a premarital agreement as early as July 2019 and had a joint meeting in August with Mr. Joiner and Ms. Leiser to discuss the agreement prior to the drafting. …
“Plaintiff argued she failed to obtain her own counsel in part due to her lack of understanding of the nature of the premarital agreement. The Court, as described above, does not find this persuasive.
“Plaintiff further alleged she does not check her email regularly and assumes emails not from Mongolia are spam, meaning she never received a copy of the agreement to review. However, this is contradicted by evidence Plaintiff utilized email to communicate with her teacher the same year for assistance with her resume.”
“There is no question Plaintiffs assets pale in comparison to those of Mr. Joiner, a disparity left virtually untouched by the premarital agreement. …
“Plaintiff had approximately $72,000 in assets and made $15,721 in 2019 from her business, while Mr. Joiner was retired with assets exceeding $6 million.
“While the premarital agreement divided assets disparately based on what the parties entered the marriage with, Plaintiff must also show there were overreaching or oppressive influences rendering the agreement unconscionable.”
“While Plaintiff established a gross disparity of assets, the evidence did not establish oppressive influences. The evidence sufficiently shows no language barrier prevented Plaintiff from understanding the agreement or communicating any questions.
“No other oppressive influences identified by Plaintiff would impact the unconscionability of the premarital agreement.
“Moreover, Plaintiff failed to show overreaching influences on Mr. Joiner’s part.”
The agreement is enforceable. Plaintiff’s request for a declaratory judgment is denied.
Munhuu v. Joiner, Case No. CL-2022-1126, FI-2021-538, Feb. 23, 2023. Fairfax County Circuit Court (Azcarate). Joseph W. Stuart for plaintiff. Nicholas J. Gehrig for defendant. VLW 023-8-014, 12 pp.