Long Island case shines light on prenuptial agreements

Posted: 8:00 PM EDT Mar 11, 2013   Updated: 7:02 PM EDT Mar 12, 2013

A Long Island woman signed a prenuptial agreement and then, after 15 years of marriage, was able to get it thrown out by a judge.

Peter and Elizabeth Petrakis were in love in 1998, but four days before the New York couple married, Peter asked Elizabeth to sign a pre-nup, giving away all claim to his future earnings.

"I never thought to see a financial planner. I wasn't the money-maker," said Elizabeth Petrakis.

Elizabeth said Peter promised to tear up the agreement after the couple had their first child.

After three kids, the pre-nup was still intact, so the one-time cooing couple started scrapping in the courts.

"There are three main issues that can invalidate a pre-nup. That is fraud, misrepresentation and duress, " said Stephen Zamborski, an attorney in Allentown.

Elizabeth was able to prove she was coerced into signing.

While the case sets a precedent in New York, Zamborsky said Pennsylvania law is much different. Anything you own separately like property, retirement accounts and your car are protected going into a marriage, but you split any increase in the value of those assets and any new ones you acquire.

"Anything can be in a pre-nup except for bargaining away the rights of a child," said Zamborsky, adding that if you have children from a previous marriage, a pre-nup will protect their inheritance.

A lot of people are turning to web sites for legal documents.

"More often than not, you get what you pay for. You are not getting a specific agreement that is tailored to you specific circumstances," said Zamborsky.

If you have a lot of assets, Zamborsky said you may want to spend a few more dollars to make sure your pre-nup doesn't give them all away to your former spouse.