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Premarital agreements in North Carolina

North Carolina law allows couples planning to marry to enter into premarital agreements before they tie the knot. These agreements are important not only in the event of a divorce or separation, but also when one of the spouses simply wants to protect the inheritance of any children from a previous relationship.

However, these agreements are subject to special legal requirements, which, if not satisfied, could render a premarital agreement unenforceable. For instance, before enforcing an agreement, a court will verify that both parties signed the written agreement. Informal, oral agreements will not be enforced.

The court must also determine whether the agreement covers only those topics permitted under the law, and the court will not enforce an agreement to the extent it touches on prohibited topics. While a couple can negotiate property rights and even spousal support through a premarital agreement, a couple is much more restricted when it comes to bargaining about child custody or support.

Moreover, in North Carolina, a court will disregard a premarital agreement about spousal support to the extent that the alternative is that one of the spouses will wind up on a welfare program. Finally, premarital agreements have to be voluntarily entered. If a spouse can prove that he or she signed under duress or otherwise did not have a full and free choice when entering the agreement, the agreement may be deemed unenforceable.

Likewise, a court will also set aside the agreement if it is "unconscionable," that is, plainly unfair. But, before a court will do so, it will inquire as to whether both spouses had a complete and accurate picture of the other's financial situation.

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