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Sailer v. Sailer

September 21, 2010

CURTIS L. SAILER, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLEE
v.
SANDRA K. SAILER, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT



Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Thomas J. Schneider, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

REVERSED AND REMANDED.

[¶1] Sandra Sailer appealed from the district court judgment entered after remand enforcing a prenuptial agreement with Curtis Sailer and making an equitable distribution of the parties' jointly held property. Because the district court did not comply with our instructions on remand in Sailer v. Sailer, 2009 ND 73, 764 N.W.2d 445 ("Sailer I"), to support its decision, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I.

[¶2] Many of the relevant facts are set forth in our prior opinion in this case, Sailer I, 2009 ND 73, 764 N.W.2d 445, and we will not repeat them except as necessary to assist in resolving the issues raised in the present appeal.

[¶3] Curtis Sailer and Sandra Sailer met in 1989. The parties signed a prenuptial agreement on May 13, 1993, and were married on May 29, 1993. Sandra Sailer had one child prior to their marriage, and the parties had three children during the marriage. In November 2006, Curtis Sailer filed this action for divorce, and the district court held a trial in December 2007. On March 18, 2008, the district court entered a divorce judgment, concluding the prenuptial agreement at issue was conscionable as a matter of law and holding the agreement was not so one-sided as to be unenforceable. The court found Curtis Sailer did not waive an express provision of the prenuptial agreement by supporting his family with his income, awarded Curtis Sailer primary residential responsibility of the children, and awarded both parties decisionmaking responsibility for their children.

[¶4] In Sailer I, 2009 ND 73, ¶ 28, 764 N.W.2d 445, a majority of this Court concluded the district court did not provide sufficient findings for us to properly review its decision under N.D.C.C. § 14-03.1-07. We affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the district court for further proceedings, stating:

We remand the issue of whether the prenuptial agreement is unconscionable as enforced to the trial court with instructions to value the parties' assets, make findings as to their other resources, and determine their foreseeable needs, in order to determine whether the agreement is unconscionable as enforced. We further direct the district court to make an equitable distribution of the jointly held property. Sailer I, at ¶ 53 (emphasis added).

[¶5] After holding an evidentiary hearing on remand, the district court issued amended findings of fact and conclusions. The court ruled the prenuptial agreement was not unconscionable as enforced and equally distributed the parties' jointly held property.

II.

[¶6] On appeal, Sandra Sailer argues that the district court erred in holding the prenuptial agreement was not unconscionable as enforced and that the court did not make an equitable distribution of the parties' jointly held property.

A.

[¶7] The Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, N.D.C.C. ch. 14-03.1, provides that premarital agreements may be unenforceable if the agreement is unconscionable at the time of its execution, of the separation or marital dissolution, or of its enforcement. See N.D.C.C. §§ 14-03.1-06(1)(b), -06(2), -07; see also Sailer I, 2009 ND 73, ¶ 22, 764 N.W.2d 445; Estate of Lutz, 2000 ND 226, ¶ 25, 620 N.W.2d 589. "The substantive enforceability of a premarital agreement is a matter of law to be decided by the court." Sailer I, at ¶ 21; see also N.D.C.C. § 14-03.1-06(3). We review questions of law under the de novo standard on the entire record. Jangula v. Jangula, 2005 ND 203, ¶ 9, 706 N.W.2d 85.

[¶8] Although the issue of whether a premarital agreement is unconscionable presents a question of law, "'[the analysis] turns on factual findings related to the relative property values, the parties' financial circumstances, and their ongoing need.'" Sailer I, 2009 ND 73, ¶ 21, 764 N.W.2d 445 (quoting Binek v. Binek, 2004 ND 5, ¶ 10, 673 N.W.2d 594). In discussing "unconscionability," the comment to section 6 of the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act explains that "[t]he test of 'unconscionability' is drawn from Section 306 of the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (UMDA)," that the standard of unconscionability is "used in commercial law" to protect against "one-sidedness, oppression, or unfair surprise," and that the Act "does not introduce a novel standard unknown to the law." Unif. Premarital Agreement Act § 6 cmt., 9C U.L.A. 49-50 (2001). In the marital context, the standard protects against "overreaching, concealment of assets, and sharp dealing not consistent with the obligations of marital partners to deal fairly with each other." Id. at 50.

"In order to determine whether the agreement is unconscionable, the court may look to the economic circumstances of the parties resulting from the agreement, and any other relevant evidence such as the conditions under which the agreement was made, including the knowledge of the other party. If the court finds the agreement not unconscionable, its terms respecting property division and maintenance may not be altered by the court at the hearing." (Commissioner's Note, Sec. 306, Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act.)

....

Even if the conditions stated in subsection (a) [see N.D.C.C. § 14-03.1-06(1)] are not proven, if a provision of a premarital agreement modifies or eliminates spousal support, subsection (b) [see N.D.C.C. § 14-03.1-06(2)] authorizes a court to provide very limited relief to a party who would otherwise be eligible for public welfare (see, e.g., Osborne v. Osborne, 428 N.E.2d 810 (Mass.1981) (dictum); Unander v. Unander, 506 P.2d 719 (Ore.1973) (dictum)). Unif. Premarital Agreement Act § 6 cmt., 9C U.L.A. 50 (2001) (emphasis added); see also Unif. Premarital Agreement Act, Prefatory Note, 9C U.L.A. 37 (2001) ("[I]f a provision of a premarital agreement modifies or eliminates spousal support, and that modification or elimination would cause a party to be eligible for support under a program of public assistance at the time of separation, marital dissolution, or death, a court is authorized to order the other party to provide support to the extent necessary to avoid that eligibility.").

[¶9] As we discussed in Sailer I, 2009 ND 73, ¶ 26, 764 N.W.2d 445, the Legislature enacted an additional provision, N.D.C.C. ยง 14-03.1-07, which is not part of the Uniform Premarital ...


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