Staying Together for the Holidays May Not Be the Best Gift

There is a time right before Thanksgiving – affectionately coined “turkey drop” – when people end relationships.  According to NPR the phrase was originally used to describe a breakup that occurs over the Thanksgiving holiday, typically between college freshmen who return home for the first time and finally pull the plug on a high school relationship.  However, this phenomenon happens for adults as well; perhaps in an attempt to avoid the stress and pressure of gift giving, and attending awkward holiday parties and family obligations.

Many couples especially those with small children tend to stay together during the holidays either in an attempt to repair a relationship or as one last memory before their family separates.  These decisions although made with the best intentions are not always a great idea.  Tensions are highest during the holidays.  Buying presents is stressful and if a family is strapped for money arguments usually start over how much is being spent.

I notice that Family Court is always jam packed with people the day after a major holiday because some incident occurred between them and their significant other or family member.

If you are deciding to stay together for one last Christmas, try to remain civil for your children and if possible, separate the house so that one person stays in one area (den/living room) and other person stays in another area (master bedroom).  This way if after the holidays you decide to end your relationship for good, you and your spouse can remain on amicable terms with each other and quickly resolve the issues  transitioning nicely for the next Holiday Seasons to come without any fanfare or stress.

NY Child Support in a Shared Custody Arrangement

The Child Support Standards Act (CSSA) applies to cases of shared custody, such that the court cannot bypass the three-step statutory formula set forth in the CSSA.

In those shared custody cases where the statutory formula yields a result that is unjust or inappropriate, the trial court may resort to the “paragraph (f)” factors and order payment of an amount that is just and appropriate. (DRL 240[1-b][f])

In determining a child support obligation in a shared custody case, the Court of Appeals in Bast v Rossoff, has explicitly rejected the use of the “proportional offset formula,” whereby each parent’s pro rata share of the basic child support obligation was multiplied by the percentage of time the child spent with the other parent, with the two resulting amounts offset against each other and the “net” paid to the parent with the lower amount.

The Court of Appeals has held that the trial court should determine, for purposes of the CSSA, which parent has physical custody of the child for the majority of the time and then engage in the precisely articulated, three-step method outlined in the CSSA, after which the noncustodial parent must pay its pro rata share of the basic child support obligation unless the court finds that the amount derived would be unjust or inappropriate.

The Third Department in Baraby v Baraby, elaborated on the Court of Appeals decision stating that in cases where the parents’ custodial arrangement splits the children’s physical custody so that neither can be said to have physical custody of the children for a majority of the time, the parent having the greater pro rata share of the child support obligation, determined after application of the three-step statutory formula of the CSSA, should be identified as the noncustodial parent for the purpose of support, regardless of the labels employed by the parties.

It is important to discuss the issues of shared custody and child support with your spouse or attorney to determine the appropriate resolution of your matter.

 

Is Living Together Before Marriage A Recipe for Divorce?

Previous cultural perception as well as earlier research suggest that couples who live together before tying the knot increase their chances of the relationship ending in divorce.  However, new research reveals that times are changing and that living together before marriage no longer plays a large role in predicting divorce. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently released the results of a four year (2006 – 2010) National Study on first marriages and family growth in the United States.

The study showed that men and women are waiting until they are older to get married for the first time and the study contributes premarital cohabitation for the delay in first marriages.  The results also found that the percentage of women “currently cohabitating rose from 3.0% in 1982 to 11% in 2006 – 2010.”

Many reasons are posited for the decreased effect of premarital cohabitation on the likelihood of divorce. Many believe that cohabitation is now being practiced among individuals at both low and high risk of marital dissolution and thus may be less predictive of a divorce than in the past.

It is becoming readily apparent from the recent research that cohabitation is replacing marriage as the first living together experience for young men and women.

What is cohabitation?

Cohabitation is an arrangement by any two people who have integrated their residence, property and daily lives.  It is often seen as a “test run” for couples headed toward marriage, but it can also be the ultimate arrangement for couples who do not necessary want the legal commitments that comes with marriage.

Why a Cohabitation Agreement?

Many times, couples cohabiting live a kind of “common law” marriage.  However, New York does not recognize common law marriage and the law will view the couple as strangers, for the most part, in the event of breakup or death.  When you enter into a marriage, couples obtain certain legal rights including, the right to receive a property settlement and/or support in the event of divorce; file joint tax returns; automatically share in his/her partner’s property in the event he/she dies without a will; receive survivor’s benefits from retirement plans and Social Security; obtain group health insurance and other employment benefits.  Unlike, married couples, cohabitating couples can only acquire similar rights by expressly securing these benefits in a cohabitation agreement, which is a contract between the cohabitating couple establishing certain rights and obligations that married people accrue by statute.

Do I really need a Cohabitation Agreement?

Maybe, maybe not.  I suggest cohabitation agreements for unmarried couples who are going to purchase real property together in order to protect the rights and secure the obligations of both parties in the event of a breakup.  Additionally, I recommend cohabitation agreements if parties are concerned about their partner being adequately provided for in the event of the other couple’s death.

What to cover in a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation can be constructed based on the parties’ specific goals and desires.  Typically a cohabitation agreement covers distributing property in the event of a breakup or death; handling of joint debt; dividing the principal residence upon either breakup or death; specifying health insurance coverage and creating a health care proxy that will allow your partner to make decisions about your health care in case of an emergency; and establishing the right to serve as a guardian in the event of incapacitation.

If you choose to live together and not marry, understand that living together does not automatically entitled either partner to the same rights and obligations afforded to married couples.  Therefore, it is important for cohabitating couples to discuss their expectations with each other and if necessary, set forth any rights and obligations in a legal documents in the event of a breakup or death.   A cohabitation agreement will insure that you are protected.

 

Pitfalls to Avoid in Marriage to Make Divorce Easier

A couple gets married and as is often the case, one person is better with numbers and finances, so the other spouse acquiesces the financial decision making to their more fiscal savvy partner.  Men and women both fall into this scenario, however; women are more likely to give up their careers to raise children and are more likely to out live their husbands.

Below are some common pitfalls married women fall into and some advise for avoiding these traps.

1. Pay attention to the household finances

Know about your family finances, income streams, real and personal property, taxes and insurance. Go with your spouse to the accountant and make sure you actually read the tax returns before signing them.  If there is something on the tax return that you do not understand ask the accountant to explain it to you.  Make copies of all financial statements or save them to a computer’s hard drive or on a flash drive.  Make sure you know all the user names and passwords for accounts at banking institutions where either you, your spouse or both of you have accounts.

2. Don’t lose your financial identity

Make sure you continue to build and maintain credit after you get married.  It is tempting to merge all your separate accounts into joint accounts.  However, down the road you are likely to discover that your inactive credit history equates to only high interest rate offers.  I recommend that couples have three bank accounts (his, hers, yours) and maintain separate credit cards.  If couples feel comfortable I would also recommend sharing your bank and credit card statements with your spouse so that there is complete transparency about the finances.

3. Walking Away from your career

According to the US Census Report, 23 percent of married-couple family groups with children under 15 had a stay-at-home mother.  According to the latest Census Report, the United States has an estimated 5.3 million “stay-at-home” parents: 5.1 million mothers and 158,000 fathers.

The longer you are out of the workforce, the harder it can be to jump back in.  Keep your skills fresh.  Unless you are independently wealthy, you should always be aware that one day you might return to the workforce, like when your children are grown.  So, stay in the career loop.  Try to take on consulting projects during your industry’s busy season, work part-time while your children are in school and attend professional events.  Maintain any certifications, licenses or professional degrees, which might require yearly dues and/or a requirement of continuing learning credits.

4. Not Saving for Retirement

People, especially young people, do not make saving for retirement a priority.  Adding to this problem, women are more likely than men to spend what little savings they have on something other than retirement.  Make saving for retirement a priority.  Find out if your employer has a 401k where they match contributions or invest in an IRA.

5. Asking for the House during a Divorce

People tend to focus on getting custody and keeping the kids in the house, and they tend to lose sight of the bigger financial picture.  The income decline that follows divorce, particularly among women, is well documented.  According to Research conducted by the Family Research Council, following a divorce, the parent with custody of the children experiences a 52 percent drop in his or her family income.

When going through a divorce, ask your attorney to help you create a budget and determine which assets will help you pay bills.  Not only discuss the option of keeping the house but also discuss the practicality of maintaining the house post-divorce.  Too many people fight for the house to avoid uprooting their children, only to find out that they do not have the cash flow to pay for it.

Knowledge really is power and people who have a keen grasp on their family’s financial picture, are in a far superior position during a divorce and after.

Can a Court take into account marital fault when determining the distribution of property?

The general rule in New York is that marital fault should not be considered in determining equitable distribution.  Although extremely rare, it is possible for a New York court to determine that fault may constitute a factor, which would diminish a court’s award of maintenance or property distribution to the “guilty” spouse under the catchall factor of the Equitable Distribution law that allows the court to consider any relevant factor.  DRL §236(B)(5)(d)(13) & (6)(a)(11).

It is well settled that marital fault should only be taken into consideration where the “marital conduct is so egregious or uncivilized as to bespeak of blatant disregard of the marital relationship — misconduct that ‘shocks the conscience’ of the court thereby compelling it to invoke its equitable power to do justice between the parties.” See Blickstein v Blickstein, 99 AD2d 287, 292 [1984]; see also, O’Brien v O’Brien, 66 NY2d 576, 589 – 590 [1985].

Additionally, at least one court in New York has expanded upon the principles in Blickstein, supra, holding that for fault to be a factor there must be a finding of such adverse detrimental effect upon the innocent spouse.  Wenzel v Wenzel, 122 Misc2d 1001, 1002 [1984].  However, it should be noted that Wenzel, supra, is a lower court decision from Suffolk County, and at least one Appellate Division has declined to adopt the Wenzel two prong analysis, instead relying on the standard set forth in Blickstein, supra.

In McCann v McCann, infra, the Court elaborated on the concept of egregious conduct set forth by the Blickstein court and presents an explanation regarding how a court should determine whether conduct is egregious.

With respect to the concept of egregious behavior, marital fault may also be understood as a voluntary act in the context of the marriage that causes some social harm. The difference between ordinary marital fault and egregious marital fault, however, concerns the relative importance of the particular social value involved. The more highly the preservation of an interest is valued by society, the more likely it is that the offensive conduct in question will be deemed egregious.

A Judge, therefore, in determining whether particular conduct amounts to egregious marital fault, must decide whether the social interest compromised by the offending spouse’s conduct is so fundamental that the court is compelled to punish the offending spouse by affecting the equitable distribution of the marital assets.

McCann v McCann, 156 Misc2d 540, 546 [Sup Ct 1993]

Since Blickstein, supra, marital fault was considered in the following cases; Havell v Islam, 301 AD2d 339 [1st Dept 2002] (former husband attempted to kill wife); Wenzel v Wenzel, 122 Misc2d 1001, 1002 [1984] (attempted murder); Valenza v Valenza, NYLJ, Jan. 16, 1990, at 31, col 4 [Sup Ct, Queens County]) (rape); Thompson v Thompson, NYLJ, Jan. 5, 1990, at 28, col 3 [Sup Ct, Nassau County, McCaffrey, J.] (rape); Safah v Safah, NYLJ, Jan. 8, 1992, at 26, col 5 [Sup Ct, Suffolk County]) (kidnapping).

Conversely, the courts held that such egregious circumstances do not exist merely by reason of a spouse’s homosexuality (M. V. R. v T. M. R., 115 Misc2d 674, 681 [Sup Ct 1982]) or engagement in an adulterous relationship, (Lestrange v Lestrange, 148 AD2d 587, 588 [2d Dept 1989]); a spouse’s allegedly deceitful entry into the marriage on the basis of a false promise to have children, (McCann v McCann, 156 Misc 2d 540, 547 [Sup Ct 1993]) or his or her excessive drinking, verbal harassment or threats against the other spouse, or even his or her resort to minor domestic violence (Orofino v Orofino, 215 AD2d 997, 997 [3d Dept 1995]).

If the above cases do not present a clear enough picture of what constitutes egregious conduct that shocks the conscience, below is an excerpt from Havell v Islam, infra.

On April 15, 1999, plaintiff advised defendant that she would seek a divorce. Several days later, on April 21, 1999, he broke the locks on the door to her bedroom, where she slept separately from him. On April 22, 1999, their daughter Chloe’s birthday, he set his alarm clock to waken him at 4:00 A.M. and entered his wife’s bedroom at approximately 5:00 A.M. The wife awoke to the sight of him entering her bedroom, taking a seat in a chair at the foot of her bed, and wearing yellow rubber gloves and carrying a barbell. When she sat up, he went over, pinned the wife to the bed with his knee and began beating her viciously on the head, face, neck and hands with the barbell. Plaintiff, who was conscious during the incident, observed her blood, teeth and bone spattering everywhere. Her screams brought their three young daughters, Chloe, Clarissa and Georgina, aged 15, 12 and 10 respectively, into the room where defendant told Chloe that he had killed her mother. As Chloe tried to call 911 for assistance, defendant twice attempted to renew his attack on plaintiff, first with a long piece of pipe and then with a large towel over her face. The daughters held him off her until the police arrived and arrested defendant.

Havell v Islam, 301 AD2d 339, 341 [1st Dept 2002]

 

Should Family Court Be Open to the Public? A Lawyer’s Perspective.

The NY Family Courts have recently come under scrutiny for a 1997 law that is not being enforced.  A NY Times article published on November 17, 2011 entitled, New York Family Courts Say Keep Out, Despite Order, highlights the issue.  The article states that although Family Court has had an open door policy since 1997, the Courts and court officers routinely refuse members of the public into the courtrooms.  The article paints the Family Court as a secretive society where deals are brokered in back rooms and Judges terminate parents rights with the wave of their magical gavel.  This distorted image of Family Court could not be further from the truth.

As an attorney who routinely practices in Nassau County Family Court, I would like to set the record straight.  Family Court does not need to be open to the public to make sure the judges and their staff are held accountable to the community.  The members of Family Court from the judges to the court officers, all work tirelessly for the community of Nassau County.  There are of course the few employees out there who do not perform their duties to the standards of the rest, but there is a simpler solution than opening courtrooms to the public.

I suggest that the Family Court develop anonymous surveys and provide them through the local Bar Association to the attorneys.  The attorneys would then anonymously rate the court personnel in a similar manner to the way students rate their professors at college.  Attorneys sit in the trenches of the courthouses day in and day out and they are the players that have first hand experience dealing with judges and their staff.  I recommend that attorneys complete the surveys because parties in a Family Court proceeding are understandably biased and if a Court’s determination does not favor them they are likely to place blame on the court system instead of on the facts and circumstances, which lead to being in court in the first place.

Another serious reason for not allowing the public in courtrooms is the nature of the issues being discussed.  Many times sensitive topics such as abuse and neglect are raised.  It is difficult enough for people to gather the courage to file for an Order of Protection against an abusive spouse or family member and if reporters were allowed to enter the courtrooms these individuals may shy away from seeking protection through the courts for fear of reprisals or retribution from the proceedings being made public.

I find as an attorney that the people who most want access to the courtrooms are the parties’ family members and while these people are a source of support for clients they can also hinder settlement.  In addition, if one party brings their family entourage and the other party to the proceedings has no support, the party without support in the courtroom may feel additional pressure to settle.

I wholeheartedly believe that people should be held accountable in their place of employment and judges are no exception.  However, there are easier and certainly more effective ways to accomplish this goal than opening Family Court to the public.

What is a child’s “home state”?

NY Courts have the power to decide issues of custody, if NY is the child’s home state.

Home state is defined as the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding. In the case of a child less than six months of age, the term means the state in which the child lived from birth with any of the persons mentioned. A period of temporary absence of any of the mentioned persons is part of the period. See Domestic Relations Law § 75-a.

Therefore, if a parent removes a child from the state of NY, where the child has resided for more than six months, the child’s home state will continue to be NY for a period of six months from the date of removal.  During that six month period, only NY can assert home state jurisdiction, giving the resident parent an opportunity to commence an action at home, without fear of being preempted (unless the removing parent can assert other grounds for exercise of jurisdiction in the new state, which would ordinarily be difficult to do).

Court strictly interpret the six month residency requirement for home state jurisdiction.  See Blackburn v Sontag, 92 AD2d 918 [1983]. The Courts also strictly interpret the provision that home state jurisdiction is lost six months after the removal of the child. In Caronna v Caronna, the Court held that Florida, not NY, was the child’s home state, where the Mother waited almost 2 years after the relocation to commence an action. See Caronna v Caronna, 141 Misc2d 834 [1988].

Conversely, Courts have held that the duration of a child’s stay within a state is not sufficient to satisfy the home state requirement where there is no real intention to make that state the permanent family residence.  See Stanley F v Marlene F, 144 Misc2d 235 [1989]. In addition, under the UCCJEA definition of “home state,” the six month period continues to run even if the child is out of the state during a period of “temporary absence.” See DRL 75-a(a)(7). In Krymko v Krymko, NY acquired home state jurisdiction, even though, according to the mother, the child resided in NY 18 days short of six months, where the mother wrongfully removed the child to Ontario, Canada, where she remained for some months until the Canadian court ordered her return in NY.  See Krymko v Krymko, 32 AD3d 94 [2006].

If you have an issue regarding interstate custody, it would be wise to contact an attorney to discuss the issue of the child’s home state and which state has jurisdiction to decide issues of custody.

Is Adoption the Option for Same-Sex Couples?

As expressed in my earlier blog, because of DOMA, the issue of child custody, visitation and parental rights are sensitive topics and same-sex couples need to understand the legal ramifications when choosing whether to legally adopt a partner’s biological children.

Before the legalization or recognition of same-sex marriage, a non-biological person in a same-sex relationship was required to legally adopt their partner’s child in order to have legal standing to seek custody and/or visitation.

PRIOR TO NEW LAW

Prior to the new law, Courts were not in agreement as to whether the non-biological partner in a same sex marriage had standing to pursue custody and visitation, and if, even assuming standing, they had the same rights and powers as the biological parent.

In Matter of Alison D. v Virginia M., Alison sought visitation of a child from a same sex partnership without having first adopted the child. Alison  and Virginia established a relationship in September 1977 and began living together in March 1978. In March 1980, they decided to have a child and agreed that Virginia would be artificially inseminated. Together, they planned for the conception and birth of the child and agreed to share jointly all rights and responsibilities of child-rearing. In July 1981, Virginia gave birth to a baby boy, A.D.M., who was given Alison’s last name as his middle name and Virginia’s last name became his last name. Alison shared in all birthing expenses and, after A.D.M.’s birth, continued to provide for his support. During A.D.M.’s first two years, Alison and Virginia jointly cared for and made decisions regarding the child.

In November 1983, when the child was 2 years and 4 months old, the parents terminated their relationship and Alison moved out of the home they jointly owned. The parties agreed to a visitation schedule whereby Alison continued to see the child a few times a week. By this time, the child had referred to both parties as “mommy”. Alison’s visitation with the child continued until 1986, at which time Virgina bought out Alison’s interest in the house and then began to restrict Alison’s visitation with the child. In 1987 Alison moved to Ireland to pursue career opportunities, but continued her attempts to communicate with the child. Thereafter,Virgina  terminated all contact between Alison and the child, returning all of Alison’s gifts and letters. No dispute exists that Alison is a fit parent.

The Court of Appeals denied visitation to Alison on the grounds that as a biological stranger to the child she could not be deemed a “parent” under DRL 70. The Court expressed that statutes existed under the Domestic Relations Law for visitation rights of siblings and grandparents.  The Court also rejected the application of equitable estoppel.

The decision of Alison D., precluded a same sex non-biological party from ever having standing.

In Matter of Jacob, the Court of Appeals held that a same sex partner of a biological parent was allowed to become a parent through adoption.

In Behrens v Rimland, the Second Department rejected the application of the doctrine of equitable estoppel and determined that regardless of the fact that the parties held out the Petitioner as the child’s parent for the child’s entire life, without a legal adoption, the Petitioner did not have standing to seek visitation with the child.

AFTER THE NEW LAW

Since the legalization of same sex marriage, there has been limited litigation with respect to the issues regarding children.

In Matter of Adoption of a Child Whose First Name is Sebastian, the Court noted that there is a presumption of legitimacy that arises as a result of the birth of a child before or during a legal marriage. Specifically, Section 417 of the Family Court provides that “a child born of  parents who at any time prior or subsequent to the birth of said child shall have entered into a ceremonial marriage shall be deemed the legitimate child of both parents for all purposes of this article regardless of the validity of such marriage.”

In Matter of Adoption…Sebastian, the Court required an adoption because, even though, New York would recognize a marriage performed outside the State and therefore recognize the children as the children of both the parties to the marriage, if the parties and children traveled to a state where same sex marriage are not recognized it could cause potential problems.

WHERE DO WE STAND?

There have been no cases litigated in NY where the parties to a same sex marriage sought a determination regarding custody and visitation of a child where one party a non-biological parent.

However, some things that I think same sex couples should be aware of if the non-biological partner does NOT adopt the biological partner’s child:

1. Problems may arise for the non-biological partner when parties and their children travel or move outside the state of NY to a state, province or country that does not recognize their marriage AND;

2. Although NY has a presumption of legitimacy, this presumption is rebuttable and it is unclear how a NY Court will handle same-sex parents, where one parent can prove through DNA testing that the other parent is not the biological parent of the child.

Children are often one of the most litigated aspects of a divorce.  Therefore, it is imperative that couples understand the serious consequences that may arise if they choose not to adopt their partner’s children.

 

Dissolving VT Civil Union in a NY Court

Until recently NY Courts had not determined the issue of terminating out-of-state civil unions.

Beginning in 2000, same-sex couples could go to Vermont to get civil unions without fulfilling any residency requirement, and many did so.  The problem came in terminating those civil unions.  Vermont, in common with almost every other state, has a real residency requirement for divorce cases, and when they passed the Civil Unions Act, they adopted the same requirement for dissolving civil unions.  Couples who returned to their home states were stuck if they wanted to dissolve their civil union.  Either one member of the couple had to relocate to live in Vermont for a year, or they could just try to ignore the fact that they had a civil union, or they could try to get a home state court to dissolve it.

In July of 2011, the NY Appellate Division Third Department, rendered a decision stating that the trial court had equity jurisdiction to dissolve same-sex civil union validly entered into outside of New York.

In the case, Dickerson v Thompson, the Court stated “absent Supreme Court’s invocation of its equitable power to dissolve the civil union, there would be no court competent to provide plaintiff the requested relief and she would therefore be left without a remedy. A court of equity ‘withholds its remedies if the result would be unjust, but freely grants them to prevent injustice when the other courts are helpless'”

It appears from the ruling in Dickerson v Thompson, that partners who obtained a civil union in another state can now dissolve those unions in a NY Court.  This is good news for all those couples who raced to VT and are now looking to dissolve their civil unions.

Need a Pre-Nup? Use a Lawyer not a Napkin.

There is a rumor out in internet land that Steven Spielberg and his first wife wrote their prenup on a napkin without any legal representation, and which was later declared void with his wife receiving around $100 million i 1989.  Regardless of the truth of the statement, it highlights an important lesson that even Kanye West echos in his hit song. “We Want Prenup!”

I am a strong proponent of prenuptial agreements.  A properly worded agreement can save couples thousands of dollars in legal fees if they get divorced.  However, as Mr. Spielberg learned the hard way, a prenuptial agreement must meet certain formalities to be valid.

In NY, under Domestic Relations Law section 236(B)(3), an agreement made by the parties, before or during the marriage, is valid and enforceable if:

  1. The agreement is in writing
  2. The agreement is subscribed by the parties; and
  3. The agreement is acknowledged in the same manner required to entitle a deed to be recorded

Most issues arise with the third criteria.  It is not necessary that the certificate of acknowledgement contain the precise language set forth in section 309-a of the Real Property Law.  The courts hold that there are two aspects to an acknowledgment: the oral declaration of the signer of the document and the written certificate, generally prepared by a notary public. As long as both elements are present, the acknowledgement will be upheld.

Additionally, parties may sign the agreement in counterparts.  In Pulver v Pulver, 40 AD3d 1315 [3d Dept 2007], the parties signed the prenuptial agreement on the same day, however they each signed and acknowledged before a notary a separate document, at different locations, and when they each signed their agreement, the line for the other party’s signature was blank.  The Court held that the fact that the agreement was signed by the parties at separate locations did not render it invalid.  The Court went on to state that even though the agreements were signed at separate locations, the documents were identical.  Additionally, plaintiff conceded that he understood before signing the agreement that even though neither document would be signed by both parties, the terms would be binding upon both parties.  See Pulver, 40 AD3d at 1317

To avoid complications such as were had in Pulver, our agreements provide  that it may be signed in counterparts and that the document will be valid when each party has signed it.

Even if Spielberg and his first wife were cleaver enough to comply with the formalities to make an agreement valid, I doubt that Mr. Jurassic Park would know exactly how to word a prenuptial to make the substantive provisions enforceable.  Although prenups are not romantic, they are necessary.  A detailed prenup can avoid parties huge headaches and even larger legal bills down the road.  So remember, although good ideas have come from napkins, a prenup is not one of them.