How To Prove Duress in New York Divorce

The concept of duress plays a critical role, especially when contesting prenuptial agreements and during divorce proceedings. Duress involves coercion, where one party claims they were forced into a legal agreement against their will. However, proving duress in New York courts is notably challenging due to the stringent standards that must be met.

Understanding Duress in Legal Terms

Duress in legal terms refers to a situation where a person performs an act as a result of violence, threat, or other pressure against them. In the context of family law, it often relates to one spouse claiming they were pressured into signing a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement under threats or extreme pressure.

The High Bar for Proving Duress

“The standards for proving duress are quite high in New York. Simply feeling pressured or having second thoughts does not equate to legal duress,” explains Brian D. Perskin, a seasoned divorce attorney. For duress to be legally recognized, the affected party must demonstrate that they had no reasonable alternative but to agree to the contract due to the severity of the threats or pressure experienced.

Challenges in Proving Duress

Proving duress in divorce and prenuptial agreement disputes involves several complexities:

  • Evidence of Coercion: The claimant must provide concrete evidence of coercion, which can be difficult to substantiate.
  • Timing of Agreement Signing: Pressure felt due to impending wedding plans often does not qualify as duress.
  • Independent Legal Advice: If a party had access to independent legal counsel before signing, claims of duress are weakened.

The Case of Weinstein v. Weinstein

The divorce case in question involves a husband, Neil Weinstein, and a wife, Tina Weinstein, and centers on the validity of a prenuptial agreement they entered into prior to their marriage. The case was heard in the Supreme Court of Nassau County, with an appeal to the Appellate Division, Second Department, New York.

Background of the Case:

Before their wedding, Neil and Tina Weinstein signed a prenuptial agreement. This agreement included standard financial disclosures and conditions that were meant to govern the distribution of assets and obligations should the marriage dissolve. Tina later contested the validity of this prenuptial agreement, leading to legal proceedings.

The Legal Dispute:

Tina Weinstein challenged the enforceability of the prenuptial agreement on multiple grounds:

  1. Improper Acknowledgment: She argued that the form of acknowledgment attached to the agreement did not meet the statutory requirements as prescribed by New York Real Property Law.
  2. Execution Under Duress: Tina claimed that she was coerced into signing the agreement under duress, impacting her consent.
  3. Potential Fraud: She suggested that there might have been fraud involved in the execution of the agreement.

Court Proceedings and Findings:

The initial ruling by the Supreme Court, Nassau County, found in favor of Tina, deeming the prenuptial agreement invalid due to issues with the acknowledgment form and credible assertions of possible fraud and duress. However, this decision was appealed by Neil.

Appellate Court Decision:

The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s decision. The appellate court held that:

  • The acknowledgment, despite not containing the exact language currently specified by the updated Real Property Law § 309-a, substantially complied with the legal standards. The court emphasized that full statutory language replication in the acknowledgment was not necessary as long as there was substantial compliance.
  • Concerning the claims of duress and fraud, the court found that Tina’s testimony, though credible, did not provide sufficient grounds to invalidate the agreement. Specifically, the appellate judges noted that Neil’s willingness to offer financial disclosure contingent upon Tina’s acceptance of the agreement did not constitute fraud. Furthermore, the court ruled that Neil’s alleged threat to cancel the wedding if the prenuptial agreement was not signed did not rise to the level of legal duress.


The appellate court granted Neil Weinstein’s motion to dismiss Tina’s third affirmative defense, thereby upholding the validity and enforceability of the prenuptial agreement. This case highlights the complexities involved in challenging prenuptial agreements in New York, especially regarding the requirements for proper acknowledgment and the high threshold for proving claims of duress and fraud.

Essential Considerations for Prenuptial Agreements

When entering into a prenuptial agreement, it is crucial to consider the following to safeguard against future claims of duress:

  • Ensure Voluntary Agreement: Both parties should willingly agree without pressure or coercion.
  • Seek Independent Legal Counsel: Each party should have their own attorney to ensure their interests are fully protected.
  • Adequate Time for Review: Provide ample time to review the agreement before the wedding to avoid claims of rushed decisions.

Hiring an Expert Family Law Attorney

Given the complexities involved in proving duress and handling family law matters in New York, hiring a knowledgeable and experienced attorney is crucial. Brian D. Perskin & Associates are experts in navigating these intricate issues, offering guidance in divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support, and property division.

If you are considering a prenuptial agreement or facing a divorce, contact Brian D. Perskin & Associates for expert advice and representation. Ensure your legal rights are protected by partnering with a firm that stays current on all legal developments. Visit our website to learn more about how we can assist you in your family law needs.

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