Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Hartford, Hartford
Suzanne R. Soria
Leonardo J. Martinez
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
Anna M. Ficeto, J.
The underlying action is for the dissolution of the parties' December 29, 2009 marriage. At issue is a Premarital Agreement executed by the parties on December 24, 2009. The parties have agreed to bifurcate the matter of the enforceability of the agreement from the remainder of the issues in the dissolution action.
A hearing on the Premarital Agreement and the issue of enforceability was held on September 16, 2015. Both parties were represented by counsel. The parties stipulated that there was a full disclosure of assets at the time the agreement was signed. The issues, as framed by the defendant husband, are: (a) Was the agreement voluntarily signed by the defendant given his alleged limited ability to understand the English language; and (b) Is the agreement unconscionable as a matter of law given the disparity in the parties' assets.
The Premarital Agreement was executed by both parties on December 24, 2009 and their signatures were acknowledged by the attorney who prepared the document. The document, in essence, calls for each party to retain his/her respective premarital assets and for the payment of no spousal support in the event of dissolution. The documents further state that " Each party acknowledges that he or she has been advised to seek the advice of a separate lawyer and had the opportunity to seek the advice of a separate lawyer."
The following facts were adduced at trial: The parties met in 2006 while the plaintiff wife was on vacation in Ecuador. They met at a bar owned by the defendant. The plaintiff was residing in Connecticut and the defendant was a citizen and resident of Ecuador. The two became romantically involved and maintained a long distance relationship for almost two years, with the defendant coming to the United States to visit the plaintiff on a tourist visa. The plaintiff discovered she was pregnant sometime in mid-2007 while the defendant was in Connecticut. He returned to Ecuador but later travelled to Connecticut for the birth of their child on February 19, 2008.
The plaintiff testified that the defendant wished to marry her from the onset, but as she was still married when she discovered she was pregnant, she was not ready to marry again. She told the defendant that he did not have to financially support the child but he expressed his desire to raise the child together as a family.
The defendant explored options relative to permanently relocating to the United States, including through his mother, an Ecuadorian resident who possesses a " green card." They discovered that even with the assistance of defendant's mother, the process for permanent residency would have taken too long. The parties finally agreed that the defendant would come to the United States on a " fiancé visa." The visa required that the parties marry within a certain time frame or the defendant would be forced to return to Ecuador. The defendant arrived in late October or early November. The plaintiff had significant assets prior to and at the time of the marriage. Although the defendant testified that he owned a Mobil Station and a bar in Ecuador, and worked for his brother-in-law selling automobiles, he was penniless.
The plaintiff insisted that before they could marry, they would need to enter into a premarital agreement so she could protect her assets. She credibly testified that the defendant agreed to the premarital agreement so as to prove his love and " good intentions." The parties obtained a marriage license on December 9, 2009 and the defendant testified that the plaintiff discussed the premarital agreement both before and after obtaining the license. The defendant was 38 years old at the time.
The services of an attorney in Hartford were retained to prepare the premarital agreement, the cost of which was paid by the plaintiff. Both testified that the other hired the attorney. The plaintiff alleges that she was working full-time and therefore tasked the defendant with obtaining the attorney. The defendant alleges that the plaintiff asked her father for an attorney referral through AARP. Regardless of who retained the attorney, the defendant was aware that an attorney was being retained and the purpose for which the attorney was being retained.
The plaintiff testified that she and the defendant met with the attorney on three occasions; the defendant testified he only went on the date the agreement was signed. He testified that he signed the agreement voluntarily but under pressure. He alleges he did not read the document; the attorney did not speak to him, and the plaintiff made very limited interpretations to him relative to the document. He alleges he felt pressured to sign the agreement because the plaintiff informed him that if he did not she would move to another state with their minor child.
The defendant's most compelling argument, however, is that he had limited command of the English language and that his ability to understand English at the time of the agreement was 5-10%. He alleges he knew only basic phrases and had limited English instruction in Ecuador. Conversely, the plaintiff testified that the defendant spoke English fairly well and was able to converse and read English. She denies that he asked for a translation of the document.
The defendant testified he now understands 80% of English. He enrolled in Tunxis Community College for two and a half years beginning with the fall of 2011. His first class was English Composition. He stated at various times during the hearing, " I'm not stupid" and " I'm an educated person." He stated that both his father and sister are attorneys, albeit in Ecuador. He is currently employed full-time as an auto salesperson. He has family in Boston and when responding to a question as to the number of times he had traveled to the United States, he asked whether the question was solely with respect to his relationship with the plaintiff, suggesting previous travel to the United States.
Premarital agreements entered into after October 1, 1995 are governed by the provisions of C.G.S. § 46b-36a. Pursuant to C.G.S. § 46b-36g, a premarital agreement shall be unenforceable upon proof that the party did not voluntarily execute the agreement; the agreement was unconscionable; the opposing party did not make fair and reasonable disclosure of financial assets at the time of the agreement; or the party was not given an opportunity to consult with counsel.
Pursuant to McHugh v. McHugh, 181 Conn. 482, 485, 436 A.2d 8 (1980), a prenuptial agreement will be enforceable if the circumstances of the parties are not so beyond the contemplation of the parties at the time the contract was entered into as to cause its enforcement to work. In the instant matter, however, the issue is not whether the agreement is beyond the contemplation of the parties under the current circumstances, but whether it was unconscionable at the time the parties executed the agreement. " The purpose of the doctrine of unconscionability is to prevent oppression and unfair surprise . . . the question of ...