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Pisano v. Pisano, 87 Mass.App.Ct. 403, 31 N.E. 3d 1132 (2015)

In Pisano v. Pisano, the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the validity of a prenuptial agreement and a trial court’s determination that a husband was not entitled to alimony even though the premarital agreement did not contain a waiver of alimony per se. The Court vacated the portion of the judgment that ordered the husband to reimburse the wife for $32,000 in alimony paid under a temporary order but upheld all other aspects of the judgment.

The parties entered into a prenuptial agreement in October,1990. Each party had consulted with counsel. The premarital agreement provided, in pertinent part, in paragraph 7:

7.1 Generally, under existing Massachusetts law, in the absence of this Agreement, a court would provide for the division or other disposition of the property of either or both of us in a manner which was just and proper under all of the circumstances. In addition, a court could provide for the payment of alimony by either of us to the other in amounts considered just and proper.

7.2 We recognize that, under existing Massachusetts court decisions and provisions of the Massachusetts General Laws, we may enter into an agreement prior to our marriage concerning the disposition of our property in the event of a separation or the dissolution of our marriage and that the agreement will be enforced unless, with respect to alimony, enforcement would cause one of us to become eligible for support under a program of public assistance at the time of the separation or dissolution.

7.3 If … our marriage is dissolved and a decree of separation or dissolution is entered … we agree that each of us will have the following rights: (a) Except for the Marital Estate Property…neither of us shall have any rights in or to the real or personal property owned by the other prior to our marriage or subsequently acquired by the other at any time during our marriage.(b) [The wife] shall be entitled to her Separate Property….(c) [The husband] shall be entitled to his Separate Property as defined in paragraph 2.1 above…(d) The Marital Estate Property shall be divided equally between us….

The parties were married for 20 years, when the wife filed a complaint for divorce in 2010. The husband sought temporary alimony and the Wife was ordered to pay to the husband $2,000 a month. The Wife then moved to bifurcate, which motion was granted. The trial court issued a judgment finding that the premarital agreement limited any claim the husband could make for alimony. The judge found that the agreement “does not waive the right … to put forward a claim of alimony per se” but “modifies and limits that right by restricting the assets and income from which alimony could be drawn to marital property.” The trial court found that the agreement did not contain an express waiver of all alimony, but a partial waiver of alimony so long as the parties were not left as a pauper. The judge found that alimony could be funded from marital property or marital income after the determination of division of assets and liabilities consistent with the premarital agreement. The Wife then filed a motion to terminate temporary alimony, stating that all current income was from separate property. Alimony was then suspended.

With the assent of the parties, additional issues were referred to a master who determined that the wife was entitled to recover alimony payments (in the amount of $32,000) made to the husband under the temporary order. The master found that the wife had made alimony payments from her separate property and that the husband had been unjustly enriched and must repay the wife. The master further determined that a $100,000 loan be treated as the wife’s sole liability. The master’s recommendations were then incorporated into the supplemental judgment of divorce nisi in February, 2013. Both parties appealed.

The wife argued that the husband’s appeal was untimely since it was not filed within thirty days of the entry of the bifurcated judgment. The Appeal’s Court held that the “bifurcated judgment” was, in essence, an interlocutory order, and that the supplemental judgment of divorce nisi constituted the final judgment. The Appeals Court cited Halperson v. Halperson, 65 Mass.App.Ct. 909, 841 N.E. 2d 1285 (2006), in which case the Court found that an appeal on a bifurcated judgment on the validity of a prenuptial agreement was “not ripe for appeal” since “the judgment did [not] dispose of all issues in the case.” The Court found that since the bifurcated judgment did not dispose of all the issues in the underlining divorce, the husband’s appeal was timely.

With regard to alimony, the Appeals Court cited paragraph 7.1 determining that the provision indicated that the concept of alimony was considered by the parties in their agreement, and it acknowledge that traditional principles governing an award of alimony were being modified or limited. The Court further found that language of paragraph 7.2, indicates that the parties intended that alimony could be awarded from the parties’ separate property (including income from such property) to prevent a party from becoming a public charge. The Appeals Court held that: “while the premarital agreement … does not contain a waiver of alimony per se, against the backdrop of the parties’ intent to protect their separate property (including income streams), and the …language of paragraph 7 as it pertains to awards of alimony” that “the judge reasonably and properly construed the agreement to limit the husband’s claim for alimony.” The Court concluded that there was not an unknowing waiver of alimony rights.

The Appeals Court, however, did reverse the finding that the husband repay the wife for alimony he received under the temporary order. The Court noted that the wife had initially failed to object to the payment of the temporary order on the grounds that it was not permitted under the premarital agreement. As a result, the Appeals Court found that the master did not appropriately apply the doctrine of “unjust enrichment.”

Finally, the Appeal’s Court further upheld the determination that the wife was responsible for repayment of the $100,000 loan. The Court noted that the parties’ agreement contained no specific provision concerning the payment of marital liabilities and the master, and consequently the judge, determined, on all the evidence (including the timing, lack of assent on the part of the husband, and the expenses which gave rise to the loan), that this particular liability should be treated as an individual debt of the wife. The Court failed to discern either an abuse of discretion or an error of law.

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