The divorce of Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google and 6th richest man in the world, and his wife Nicole Shanahan was kept private for months. However, over the past month, details have continued to leak regarding the couple’s apparently less-than-amicable divorce. For example, it’s been reported that Shanahan has chosen to fight for an alleged billion-dollar divorce settlement despite a prenuptial agreement that would block her claim.
Prenuptial agreements are typically secure contracts that allow couples to protect their rights to their own property. However, not all prenups are enforceable. Shanahan claims that she was coerced into signing the prenuptial contract against her will, which would make it non-binding. Here’s what you need to know about the current state of Brin and Shanahan’s split and what you can learn from it to write a strong, enforceable California prenuptial agreement.
Shanahan’s Request for $1 Billion Post-Divorce
Shanahan and Brin have been married since 2018. Brin’s net worth was a solid $55 billion at the time. In the four years since, it’s grown by $41 billion, to an eye-watering $107 billion, and $96 billion at the time of writing. Under California’s community property laws, any assets earned or acquired during a marriage are considered joint property.
If Shanahan and Brin had not signed a prenuptial agreement, that additional $41 billion in net worth would have been equally owned by both. Joint property is supposed to be divided equally in the case of a divorce, so Shanahan would have the right to approximately $20.5 billion
This puts Shanahan’s $1 billion divorce settlement request into perspective. Shanahan is not fighting for the ten-figure settlement she may have otherwise been eligible for. The settlement she’s fighting for is just over one percent of Brin’s overall net worth.
Her petition is based on the claim that the prenuptial agreement the couple put in place was not valid. According to Shanahan, she was forced to sign the prenup and did not sign it of her own free will. Should that be the case, then the prenup will likely be thrown out, and the couple will need to proceed with their divorce through negotiation or judicial hearings.
What Makes a Prenuptial Agreement Non-Binding?
Prenuptial agreements are invaluable, but they’re not infallible. A prenup is a contract just like any other, meaning it needs to be written carefully, or it will not be legally binding. In fact, since prenups involve one or both parties ceding their customary legal rights, they need even more care than most other contracts to ensure that they will stand up in court.
For a prenuptial contract to be considered binding, it needs to fulfill several criteria, including:
- Containing all statutes and conditions required of legal documents
- Having been written after full disclosure of all assets and debts by both parties
- Having been signed by both parties readily and of their own free will
A prenuptial agreement must be thorough, honest, and free from coercion to be legally valid.
Several issues can cause a prenup to be considered unenforceable. For example, if one spouse isn’t honest about their debts or assets when writing the prenup, it’s unlikely that a court will consider it enforceable. Similarly, coercing or forcing someone to sign a prenup will render it unenforceable. Coercing someone into signing a prenup can look like:
- Lying to someone about what a prenup covers
- Threatening them if they don’t want to sign the prenup
- Telling them they have to sign the prenup the night before the wedding
Any of these situations can make a prenuptial agreement invalid if the coerced person can prove they were forced to sign.
Finally, judges may choose not to enforce a prenuptial agreement if the contract is unjust. If the prenup puts one party at a severe disadvantage or contains unrealistic conditions, the judge may choose to throw out the contract in part or whole. It’s in both parties’ best interests for the prenup to be fair and equitable.
How to Write a Rock-Solid Prenuptial Agreement
The best way to ensure that your prenuptial agreement will hold up in court is to spend the time and effort up front to write it well. The most essential rules for writing legally binding prenups include:
- Always be honest about your assets. Never try to lie about your current assets and debts when writing the contract. That deception can be considered fraud in court, causing the entire document to be thrown out.
- Be realistic when writing the contract. While you may want to include strict terms for issues like alimony and asset division in a divorce, don’t be cruel. Keep your prenup equitable and realistic, and it’s more likely to stand up under legal scrutiny.
- Work with qualified prenuptial agreement lawyers. Without skilled legal assistance, your prenuptial contract may not include all of the details and language necessary to be considered a binding contract. Always work with experienced family law attorneys when drafting a prenuptial contract to make sure it’s valid.
- Consider getting separate attorneys. Contracts are more likely to be enforceable when both parties have adequate legal representation. If you and your partner work with your own lawyers to draft the document, then it’s significantly less likely that coercion will be grounds to have the contract thrown out.
Ensure Your Prenuptial Contract Stands Up in Court
Sergey Brin did the right thing for his finances by getting a prenuptial agreement. However, if Nicole Shanahan’s claim that she was coerced is upheld by the court, then it may not matter. Prenups only work if they are written carefully and correctly, so they hold up in court.
The best way to ensure your prenup will stand the test of time is by working with experienced family law attorneys. At Kaspar & Lugay, LLP, our expert lawyers have decades of experience helping clients write legally binding prenuptial agreements that fit their needs. You can learn more about how we can help you with your prenup today by reaching out to our Bay Area law firm office at 415-789-5881 or contacting us online.