Ziegler v. Natera

Decision Date10 July 2019
Docket NumberNo. 3D19-86,3D19-86
Citation279 So.3d 1240
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals
Parties Hector ZIEGLER, Appellant, v. Raquel Alonso NATERA, Appellee.

Jarbath Peña Law Group, P.A., and Fritznie Jarbath, for appellant.

Law Office of Rick Yabor, P.A., and Rick Yabor, for appellee.

Before LINDSEY, HENDON, and MILLER, JJ.

MILLER, J.

Appellant, Hector Ziegler, the husband, challenges the trial court's order invalidating an antenuptial agreement prepared by his counsel and executed by appellee, Raquel Alonso Natera, the wife, on the eve of their wedding in Venezuela. We assign no error and, accordingly, affirm.1

FACTS

In 2011, the parties planned to marry in Venezuela. Six days before their wedding, the husband presented the wife with a draft of an antenuptial agreement. At the time, the wife was four months pregnant with their second child. The only financial disclosures contained within the document were perfunctory references to the husband's ownership of certain nominal non-convertible bearer shares with corresponding assigned nominal values. The agreement did not provide for equitable distribution or alimony. The husband allowed the wife to peruse the document and then assured her that he would furnish full financial disclosures prior to the wedding.2

The day before the wedding, having not yet provided any financial documentation, the husband threatened to cancel the ceremony if the wife did not sign the agreement, and advised her that a failure to obtain the marriage certificate on the planned date would thwart the couple's imminent plan to emigrate to the United States.3 The wife reluctantly signed the agreement and the marriage was solemnized, however, the union did not endure.4

Less than six years later, the husband initiated dissolution proceedings in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The wife sought to invalidate the antenuptial agreement, contending it was the product of "duress, coercion, or overreaching," and was unconscionable, as it had been executed in the absence of full and fair financial disclosure, and thus, was properly avoidable under Florida law.5 See § 61.079(7)(a), Fla. Stat. (2019). Following an evidentiary hearing, convened to determine the circumstances surrounding the execution of the agreement, the court entered an order concluding the agreement had been executed under duress and in the absence of both full financial disclosure and waiver of said disclosure.6 This appeal ensued.

JURISDICTION AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

We have jurisdiction pursuant to Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.130(a)(3)(C)(iii) c. "We review a trial court's determination of the voidability of an antenuptial agreement for competent, substantial evidence." Bakos v. Bakos, 950 So. 2d 1257, 1259 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007) (citing Simzer v. Simzer, 514 So. 2d 372, 373 (Fla. 2d DCA 1987) ). "[T]he findings of the trial court come to this court clothed with a presumption of correctness[,] and will not be disturbed absent a showing that there was no competent evidence to sustain them." Baker v. Baker, 394 So. 2d 465, 466 (Fla. 4th DCA 1981) (citations omitted); see also Schreiber v. Schreiber, 795 So. 2d 1054, 1057 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001) ; Snedaker v. Snedaker, 660 So. 2d 1070, 1072-73 (Fla. 4th DCA 1995).

LEGAL ANALYSIS

"[I]t is black letter law that the parties to an antenuptial agreement do not deal at arm[']s length with each other." Lutgert v. Lutgert, 338 So. 2d 1111, 1115 (Fla. 2d DCA 1976). Rather, "[t]heir relationship is one of mutual trust and confidence." Id. (footnote omitted). As such, "the parties must exercise the highest degree of good faith, candor[,] and sincerity in all matters bearing on the terms and execution of the proposed agreement, with [f]airness being the ultimate measure." Id. (footnote omitted).

Section 61.079(7)(a), Florida Statutes (2019), in relevant part, provides: "A premarital agreement is not enforceable in an action proceeding under the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure if the party against whom enforcement is sought proves that ... [t]he agreement was the product of fraud, duress, coercion, or overreaching." Duress is defined as "a condition of mind produced by an improper external pressure or influence that practically destroys the free agency of a party and causes him [or her] to do and act or make a contract not of his own volition." Herald v. Hardin, 95 Fla. 889, 891, 116 So. 863, 864 (1928) (citation omitted). In order to prove duress, "[i]t must be shown (a) that the act sought to be set aside was effected involuntarily and thus not as an exercise of free choice or will and (b) that this condition of mind was caused by some improper and coercive conduct of the opposite side." City of Miami v. Kory, 394 So. 2d 494, 497 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981).

Thus, duress involves a "dual concept of external pressure and internal surrender or loss of volition in response to outside compulsion." Id. (quoting 17 C.J.S. Contracts § 168 (1963) ).

"It is not ... duress for the proponent of the agreement to make it clear that there will be no marriage in the absence of the agreement." Eager v. Eager, 696 So. 2d 1235, 1236 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997). Nonetheless, a party may not exploit another "for his [or her] own pecuniary advantage ." Berger v. Berger, 466 So. 2d 1149, 1151 (Fla. 4th DCA 1985) (emphasis in original) (citing Paris v. Paris, 412 So. 2d 952 (Fla. 1st DCA 1982) ).

Here, the testimony established that the husband initially presented his pregnant wife with the disputed document six days before the wedding. At that time, the wife requested he produce evidence regarding his holdings and net worth. The husband assured the wife such evidence would be forthcoming.

In lieu of honoring his pledge, the day before the wedding, the husband demanded execution, with the added ultimatum of "[n]o agreement, no wedding." Lutgert, 338 So. 2d at 1116. He further threatened life-altering consequences, by imperiling their shared, long-term plan to begin life anew with their children in the United States. We conclude that these circumstances, unrebutted by the husband, are sufficient to support a finding of duress. See Hjortaas v. McCabe, 656 So. 2d 168, 170 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995) ("First, the timing of the signing of the document indicates that [the wife's] signature was the product of duress. Two days before the wedding [the wife] was presented with a document, the actual terms of which were previously unknown to her and which contained no information about [the husband's] finances. She had only one day to seek counsel from her own attorney, to make an independent evaluation of the contract, or to cancel her wedding. The only rational conclusion is that her signature was the product of unwarranted compulsion, and the document should...

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5 cases
  • Bates v. Bates
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • February 3, 2021
    ...review the trial court's invalidation of the subject prenuptial agreement for competent, substantial evidence. See Ziegler v. Natera, 279 So. 3d 1240, 1242 (Fla. 3d DCA 2019). "[T]he findings of the trial court come to this court clothed with a presumption of correctness[,] and will not be ......
  • Bates v. Bates
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • August 31, 2022
    ...prenuptial agreement when the wife was under great time, medical, and social pressures he largely created. Under our precedent in Ziegler, 279 So.3d at 1243, the trial court did not commit reversible error when it found that the wife was "coerced . . . when she executed the prenuptial agree......
  • Williams-Paris v. Joseph
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • November 17, 2021
    ...Wife contended that Roach effectively abrogated Gillen , Gustafson , and Gordon , and that the more recent cases of Ziegler v. Natera , 279 So. 3d 1240 (Fla. 3d DCA 2019) and Santos , 648 So. 2d 277, reaffirmed that the lex loci contractus rule controlled. The probate court decided that rel......
  • Williams-Paris v. Joseph
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • September 1, 2021
    ...The Wife contended that Roach effectively abrogated Gillen, Gustafson, and Gordon, and that the more recent cases of Ziegler v. Natera, 279 So.3d 1240 (Fla. 3d DCA 2019) and Santos, 648 So.2d 277, reaffirmed that lex loci contractus rule controlled. The probate court decided that reliance o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4 books & journal articles
  • § 4.03 Modern Enforceability: Generally Accepted Equitable Limits
    • United States
    • Full Court Press Divorce, Separation and the Distribution of Property Title CHAPTER 4 Marital Agreements
    • Invalid date
    ...173 (2012).[136] Hollar v. Hollar, 2015 Tenn. App. LEXIS 944, 2015 WL 7748967 (Tenn. App. Nov. 30, 2015).[137] Ziegler v. Natera, 279 So.3d 1240 (Fla. App. 2019).[138] See In the Matter of Greiff, 92 N.Y.2d 341, 680 N.Y.S.2d 894, 703 N.E.2d 752 (1998).[139] R.I. Gen. L. § 15-17-6.[140] In r......
  • § 4.08 Conflict of Laws and the Validity of a Marriage Contract
    • United States
    • Full Court Press Divorce, Separation and the Distribution of Property Title CHAPTER 4 Marital Agreements
    • Invalid date
    ...Steiner v. Steiner, N.Y.L.J. Col. 5, p. 25 (March 5, 1997), 23 Fam. L. Rep. (BNA) 1242 (N.Y. Sup. 1997).[472] Ziegler v. Natera, 279 So.3d 1240 (Fla. App. 2019). [473] Blondeau v. Baltierra, 2020 WL 5735253 (Conn. Sept. 24, 2020). ...
  • Legal theories & defenses
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Florida Causes of Action
    • April 1, 2022
    ...that destroys the defendant’s free will and forces the defendant to do an act or enter into a contract. See Ziegler v. Natera , 279 So. 3d 1240, 1242 (Fla. 3d DCA 2019); Franklin v. Wallock , 576 So.2d 1371, 1373 (Fla. 5th DCA 1991) (J. Sharp, dissenting); see also Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.110(d),......
  • Review of the Year 2018-2019 in Family Law: Jurisdiction and Choice of Law Issues Abound
    • United States
    • ABA General Library Family Law Quarterly No. 53-4, January 2020
    • January 1, 2020
    ...v. C.S., 447 P.3d 110 (Utah Ct. App. 2019). 31. Muschik v. Conner-Muschik, 920 N.W.2d 215 (Minn. Ct. App. 2018). 32. Ziegler v. Natera, 279 So. 3d 1240 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2019). 33. Silverman v. Silverman, 206 A.3d 825 (Del. 2019). Published in Family Law Quarterly, Volume 53, Number 4, W......

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