When Long Island, New York resident Elizabeth Petrakis agreed to her fiancé Peter Petrakis’ request for a prenuptial agreement just days before their 1998 wedding, it’s safe to say that the furthest thing from her mind was that 15 years later she’d earn national headlines for successfully having that agreement declared invalid by the courts – and all because of a verbal promise that was allegedly made, but never kept.
Meet the Petrakis': Peter and Elizabeth.
Back in 1998, Peter, a property developer who is worth an estimated $20 million, presented his fiance Elizabeth with a prenuptial agreement six weeks before they planned to march down the aisle.
That agreement, which Elizabeth’s New York family lawyer Dennis D’Antonio would later categorize as “heavy handed,” would, in the event of divorce, entitle her to $25,000 a year for each year that the marriage lasted – no more, no less.
Elizabeth didn’t sign. In fact, she probably told Peter what he could do with his pen, and where on his body he may want to do it. “I put my foot down and said I wasn’t signing it,” she told ABC News today.
With the impending nuptials in doubt, and just four days to go before the big day, Peter then allegedly made a verbal promise that would come back to haunt him – and make his wife famous among divorcees across the country – 15 years later: if she signed the prenuptial agreement as initially proposed, the couple would get rid of it once they started to have kids.
She relented, signed the agreement, marched down the aisle, and they lived happily ever after. Well, no, not quite.
Three kids and about 10 years later, Elizabeth and Peter found themselves mired in an acrimonious divorce. At issue was the prenuptial agreement. Peter claimed to have no knowledge of the alleged promise to tear up the agreement once they started a family. Elizabeth claimed to have married him because of the alleged promise.
The matter snaked its way through the courts, and after 13 days of tough litigation, the New York Appellate Court ruled – surprisingly to many onlookers -- that Peter had “fraudulently induced” his wife to sign the agreement.
It was a ruling that D’Antonio called “groundbreaking,” given that prenuptial agreements are typically considered to be etched in stone. He also said that the ruling would be beneficial to others in his client’s shoes.
“If you are too greedy and marginalize a spouse, it’s a lot easier for an Appellate Court to agree with a legal argument that would invalidate a prenup than it otherwise might be if that prenup was fair. It’s not a given that the prenup is going to rule at the end of the day. It levels the playing field with couples dissolving a marriage with a prenup.”
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Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
Business Valuators / CPAs