How Walmart Heiress Paige Dubbert’s Prenup Dispute Might Play Out in Texas
When it comes to messy divorces, Walmart heiress Paige Laurie Dubbert’s split from former high school sweetheart Patrick Bode Dubbert promises not to disappoint. She has accused him of unlawfully funneling exorbitant amounts of cash out of a Malibu business he owns. He claims she was cheating and hopes to squash their prenup, but does he stand a chance?
Both parties signed a premarital agreement in the state of California in 2007, and the couple married the following year. Paige filed for divorce in March 2014, and Patrick now asserts Paige should pay him spousal support of $400,000 a month (after taxes) instead of the $30,000 a month specified in the Dubbert’s premarital agreement.
We asked Connatser Family Law Attorney Abby Gregory how a case like the Dubbert’s might play out in Texas. “People frequently dispute premarital agreements, but it is difficult to overturn them here, especially when the agreement has been prepared and executed properly,” says Abby.
Texas Prenups Must Be Put In Writing and Signed Voluntarily
If a premarital agreement similar to the Dubbert’s were disputed in Texas, the court would consider a number of factors. According to Abby, “At the outset, Texas premarital agreements must meet two formalities. They must be executed in writing and signed by both parties. It appears that the Dubbert’s prenup meets these requirements.”
Both parties who sign a prenup, must also do so voluntarily. “If you look at the Dubbert’s premarital agreement, It appears Patrick had the advice of independent counsel (though he may dispute such an assertion), and he signed the agreement, so it’s going to be difficult to prove that he didn’t sign voluntarily,” Abby says.
It is very difficult to prove involuntariness in Texas. As Abby explains, “Even in cases where a wife claims she was pregnant at the time she signed the premarital agreement, and she says her husband told her to sign the agreement or he wouldn’t marry her, that doesn’t mean she didn’t sign it voluntarily.
Duress, alone, is not a remedy for disputing a premarital agreement in Texas, but it may provide proof of involuntariness. According to TMZ, Patrick claims that Paige’s parents told him he had to sign the agreement, or they wouldn’t pay for the couple’s $100,000 wedding planner. This claim wouldn’t likely convince a Texas judge he signed involuntarily, and it probably won’t persuade the judge he faces in California either.”
Prenups Can Be Overturned If Financials Aren’t Disclosed Properly
In Texas, both parties must disclose, in writing, all of the property they own or have an interest in at that time, along with any financial obligations and income. This is true even when one party doesn’t have very much to disclose.
You may be able to overturn a prenup if you can prove that the agreement was unconscionable. According to Texas Family Code, a premarital agreement would be considered unconscionable when prior to signing the agreement one party:
- Was not provided fair and reasonable disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party;
- Did not voluntarily and expressly waive, in writing, any right to disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party, beyond the disclosure provided; and
- Did not have, or reasonably could not have had, adequate knowledge of the property or financial obligations of the other party.
According to Abby, “Whether an agreement is unconscionable or not is decided by the court as a matter of law, not by a jury. Neither the courts nor legislature has defined unconscionable in the context of premarital agreements. Consequently, the court will consider maturity, business backgrounds, education levels, experiences, prior marriages and the parties’ motivations to protect their wealth and children.
If there are no disclosures and either party doesn’t understand the property rights he or she is waiving, then the prenup can be unenforceable. The Dubbert’s prenup specifically references that both Paige and Patrick filed disclosures.”
The disclosures must also be completed prior to the signing of the premarital agreement in order to hold up in court. This is why Abby says, “it’s so important that your family law attorney puts a timestamp on any disclosures pertaining to the premarital agreement.”
Understand Your Property Rights and Consider Long-Term Goals
The reason people sign prenups is to protect separate property in the event of divorce and also death. Premarital agreements should clearly define what property is separate and what is and will be considered community property. Abby recommends you “thoroughly review your property rights with your family law attorney prior to signing a premarital agreement.”
For wealthy individuals like Paige Dubbert, prenups can protect both her and her family’s wealth in case of divorce or death. Consequently, if you or your family have a large estate, it is wise to clearly establish the settlement each spouse will receive when divorce or death occurs. This includes spousal support, which was specifically detailed in the Dubbert’s premarital agreement.
According to Abby, “If you and your partner plan to sign a premarital agreement prior to marriage, it’s critical to plan ahead and think about how you want your finances to look in case of divorce or death. Along with spousal support, it can also be helpful to clarify how living expenses and attorney’s fees will be handled during the divorce, which can take years in high-conflict, complex property cases.
I also encourage clients to have a plan for saving and retirement. In the prenup, you might spell out how the non-monied spouse will accumulate savings during the marriage (i.e. from personal income, IRAs, savings, brokerage accounts, other assets, etc.). Most couples will also define whether the couple’s home/s will be considered separate or community property. A non-monied spouse may desire the opportunity to reinforce his or her nest egg with home equity.”
Rely on a Family Law Attorney for Premarital Agreements
Abby’s biggest piece of advice for people considering prenups is that “you should hire an attorney who specializes in family law to prepare your premarital agreement. He or she will be the one who litigates your case, should a dispute arise. Texas family law attorneys know the ins and outs and loopholes of prenups and have experience litigating premarital agreements in front of a judge.”
They also understand the small details, such as time stamping disclosures to ensure a prenup isn’t overturned. “In order to stick, a premarital agreement needs to be thorough, as detailed as possible and include a lot of what ifs. The Dubbert’s prenup appears to meet these requirements, but only time will tell what the California court will decide,” Abby says.