One of the common responses to an attempt to enforce a marital dissolution agreement in California is the claim that the agreement was signed under duress, that is, that the ex-spouse seeking to enforce the agreement used some form of coercion to compel the other ex-spouse to sign the agreement. A recent decision by the California District Court of Appeals rejected this argument when it was used by actor Terrence Howard in an attempt to prevent his ex-wife from obtaining a share of his earnings from the hit television series “Empire.”
Howard and his second wife Michelle Ghent were divorced in 2012. They negotiated and signed a marital dissolution agreement that became the judgment of the court. The agreement required Howard to pay Ghen monthly support of $5,800 and up to $4 million per year depending on his earnings. The agreement also included Howard’s potential earnings from his portrayal of Lucious Lyon in “Empire.”
Howard failed to pay Ghent the full amount that she claimed she was entitled to under the divorce decree, and she filed a motion to compel Howard to comply with the agreement. Howard responded by claiming that Ghent had threatened him with disclosure of embarrassing personal information. Howard alleged that the threat had been made in a 2011 telephone call, about one year before they agreed to a divorce. The trial court ruled in Howard’s favor, but the appellate court reversed this decision. The court cited the couple’s angry relationship and concluded that bullying on the part of both parties is does not necessarily mean that duress occurred. Howard has the option of appealing this ruling to the California Supreme Court.
Enforcing prenuptial or marital termination agreements can be difficult, because the motion to enforce is, by definition, filed after the divorce becomes final and after one of the ex-spouses has engaged in conduct that the other ex-spouse finds objectionable. Anyone considering bringing such a motion or who is required to respond to such a motion may wish to consult a divorce attorney for advice on the law that will govern the outcome of the case.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, “Appeals court reinstates Terrence Howard’s divorce judgment,” Anthony McCartney, June 22, 2017