A New York mother has made headlines after an appeals court overturned an odd prenuptial agreement with her millionaire husband.
Elizabeth Cioffi-Petrakis, 39, said the prenup she agreed to before she got married stood to leave her with almost nothing. After a lengthy court battle, Cioffi-Petrakis was able to convince an appeals court that not only did Peter Petrakis coerce her into signing the agreement, but he never held up to promises on his end.
“This is unprecedented in the family law world,” said divorce lawyer Vikki Ziegler. “This is a landmark decision that will likely be litigated a great deal in the future in similar cases for those who feel their prenups are unconscionable.”
In order to win the case, Cioffi-Petrakis needed to prove that her husband bullied her into signing the agreement. She testified that he told her four days before the wedding that she needed to sign the agreement or he wouldn’t go through with the wedding. The short notice did not give Cioffi-Petrakis enough time to file a legal dispute, and she felt that canceling the wedding would be troublesome for their guests who had already made arrangements.
“He claimed he was just protecting his business, and that his lawyers made him have a prenup,” Cioffi-Petrakis said. “And me, a naïve young girl, I believed it.”
Even though she signed the agreement, Cioffi-Petrakis said she did so because her husband promised to make some changes in the future. Cioffi-Petrakis said her husband agreed to add her name to the deed of their home, and that they would void the prenup after the birth of their first child. She said her husband never intended to keep his promises.
“I loved him, I trusted him and I believed in his word,” she said.
After the couple had a pair of twins, Cioffi-Petrakis expected that her husband would stick to his promised word. She later had a daughter with her husband, but she soon decided to take legal action against the prenup.
The lengthy court battle took a toll on both of their wallets, as Cioffi-Petrakis said she paid nearly $500,000 in legal fees, while her husband has spent more than $600,000. Cioffi-Petrakis and her husband filed for divorce in 2010, but the matter was put on hold until a court could rule on the prenuptial agreement.
This January, the appeals court ruled in Cioffi-Petrakis’ favor, saying that she successfully proved that the agreement with her husband was a result of “fraud by the inducement” of a contract.
Ziegler, who wrote “The Pre-Marital Planner,” said this type of verbal agreement in regards to a prenuptial contract marks a landmark decision in the court of family law.
“Many couples discuss the terms of their prenups and say they will do or say things in the future that are not memorialized in writing,” Ziegler said. “However, this fraudulent inducement to buy a house, put the marital home in joint name and make other financial incentives after the parties wed appeared to sway the appellate panel who agreed to set aside the prenuptial agreement based on fraud.”
Cioffi-Petrakis was relieved by the court ruling, as she said the stress it caused nearly pushed her over the edge.
“I almost took my own life because of the depression and stresses,” she said. “I wound up in the hospital with a nervous breakdown.”
Petrakis, a prominent business owner in New York who owns a chain of smoke shops, would not comment on the ruling.
Related source: Yahoo