New York Court Rules for Willkie Client in International Divorce Action

May 30, 2012

In case of first impression, a New York court vacates prior opinion and agrees to adjudicate action for breach of prenuptial agreement between former spouses, neither of whom reside in New York.

In an international dispute involving proceedings before courts in Singapore and New York, Justice Laura E. Drager of the Supreme Court of the State of New York on May 23 ruled in favor of Willkie’s client, vacating a prior dismissal of an action to enforce a prenuptial agreement (the "Agreement") on the grounds of forum non conveniens and ruling that the action may now proceed in New York. Willkie is representing the plaintiff (Husband), who commenced the action in May 2010 to enforce the terms of the Agreement. The parties entered into the Agreement in 1999 in anticipation of marriage, which took place in New York City. Under the Agreement, which is governed by New York law, the parties agreed to waive any rights in the separate property of the other and to not seek maintenance from the other in the event of a divorce. After their wedding, the parties left New York and ultimately settled in Singapore.

In January 2010, the Wife sued for divorce in Singapore seeking, among other things, an award of maintenance from the Husband. Unlike New York, Singapore does not recognize the presumptive validity of matrimonial agreements. On behalf of the Husband, Willkie brought a breach of contract action against the Wife in New York state court seeking damages, declaratory relief, and an injunction to prevent the Wife from violating the Agreement. The Wife moved to dismiss the New York action on jurisdictional grounds as well as forum non conveniens. While the New York Court held that it had personal jurisdiction over the Wife, it granted the Wife’s motion on the grounds of forum non conveniens, finding that the Husband’s claims were inextricably intertwined with the Singapore divorce action and that the Singapore court was competent to apply New York law in determining the parties’ rights and obligations under the Agreement.

After the Wife’s motion to dismiss in the New York action was fully submitted, she informed the Singapore court that she was seeking to set aside the Agreement on the grounds that it was procured by fraud and/or deceit and/or misrepresentation. Willkie brought a motion to renew and reargue the New York Court’s dismissal order on the grounds that, among other things, the Wife’s request to set aside the Agreement meant that New York, and not Singapore, was the more convenient forum for adjudicating the dispute. The Court agreed. Vacating the Court’s prior dismissal order, Justice Drager wrote, "[t]he court agrees with the Husband that since the issues now under consideration are the circumstances surrounding the execution of the Antenuptial Agreement in New York, the state is no longer an inconvenient forum."

This case, which is of first impression in New York, is being handled by partner Mary Eaton, and associates Sameer Advani and Pia Williams.