Premarital Agreement Translation Services
By now you understand the importance of effective, complete and accurate legal document translation. Prenuptial agreements written in a foreign language are no different. Even though the lack of full translation may not always invalidate a prenuptial agreement, it is almost begging for a court not to enforce it.
Some of the basic tenants for a prenuptial agreement to be enforceable are that it is signed voluntarily, there is full disclosure of the provisions at the time of signing and the terms of the prenuptial agreement cannot be unconscionable. In the case of a prenuptial agreement written in a language that one of the signers is not fluent in, proper translation is essential to ensure full disclosure of the agreement’s contents. Even if the prenuptial agreement is held by a United States court to be enforceable, not using the right translation service when executing the document can open the prenuptial agreement to challenges which jeopardizes its enforceability. The below case, Stawski v. Stawski, is a relatively recent example. 843 N.Y.S.2d 544 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2007).
In Stawski, a New York court held that a prenuptial agreement that was written in German and signed in 1974 was enforceable 30 years later against the plaintiff, who at the time of execution, was not fluent in German. Despite not being fluent in German, one of the reasons the New York court upheld the prenuptial agreement was due to that fact that it was “explained” to her in English, which she was fluent in. Id. At 544. The plaintiff had a basic understanding of the German language, but was by no means fluent. While the prenuptial agreement was read in German to the plaintiff, it was only explained in English. The plaintiff mistakenly believed she was given a direct translation of the prenuptial agreement when in fact she was given a paraphrased description of its substantive contents. In the end, the New York court enforced this prenuptial agreement. However, one of the Judges wrote a lengthy and well-reasoned dissent explaining why the prenuptial agreement should not be enforceable. One of major reasons for the dissent was the fact that the plaintiff was never provided an adequate translation of the prenuptial agreement.
Lawyers should realize that the Stawski case is more of an exception rather than the rule. While it technically represents the enforceability of a German prenuptial agreement in the state of New York, it also reveals the danger a legal practitioner puts herself or himself in when asking an individual to sign an agreement when the individual is not provided a proper translation. As indicated at the beginning of this article, one of the basic elements to a prenuptial agreement’s enforceability is that it is fully understood by the parties. Merely explaining the prenuptial agreement’s contents or using a machine translation is asking for potential litigation. Even if the prenuptial agreement is upheld as in Stawski, lawyers preparing prenuptial agreements should try to do everything possible when executing the document to avoid litigation regarding the document or should litigation occur, take steps to enhance the document’s validity.