Marriage Does Not Alter Or Nullify Terms Of Previous Domestic Partnership Agreement Between Couple

In Estate of Wilson ( --- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 1 Dist., December 13, 2012), a California court of appeal considered whether the marriage of a same-sex couple, during the period when same-sex marriages were allowed in California, nullified the terms of a previous domestic partnership agreement between the couple in which each waived all claims to the other’s property.  The court ruled that because the partnership agreement was never terminated or altered, and the fact of the marriage alone did not terminate or alter it, the terms of the agreement including the waiver of property rights remained valid and enforceable.

Facts

In 1986, Philip Wilson executed his will in which he specified that property be divided among his siblings.  In 2006, Wilson entered into a domestic partnership with Antipas Konou.  The partnership agreement between Wilson and Konou stated that both parties “expressly waive any rights, claims or interest whatsoever in law or equity in the present or future property, income or estate of the other.”  During the period in 2008, between the time that the California Supreme Court ruled the state’s prohibition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, and when voters approved a constitutional amendment reinstating the prohibition, Wilson and Konou were married.  Later that year, Wilson died. 

Wilson’s brother, Stephen Wilson, filed a petition for probate of Wilson’s will and was named administrator.  Konou filed a petition for determination of entitlement to estate distribution as Wilson’s spouse.  In 2011, the probate court found that the marriage of Wilson and Konou did not invalidate their domestic partnership agreement and that the agreement was a valid waiver of Konou’s rights as a spouse.  Konou appealed.

Decision

Since Konou, in his domestic partnership agreement, expressly renounced any claim to property rights upon Wilson’s death, the question before the court was whether the marriage of Konou and Wilson rendered their partnership agreement void.

Family Code Section 299 provides domestic partners who seek to terminate their partnership the means to do so. But after Konou and Wilson married, they never dissolved their partnership and did not enter into a new agreement regarding property disposition.  A marriage license and certificate of marriage, the court explained, does not modify or terminate any existing agreement regarding the division of property.  Marriage licenses by themselves are silent regarding property rights, the court added. 

At the time Wilson and Konou entered their partnership, same-sex marriage was not legal in California but their partnership agreement did not stipulate that it would become null if the law changed to permit their marriage.  In the partnership agreement, Konou unambiguously waived his rights to Wilson’s estate.  He and Wilson never acted to change that waiver and neither the changing law on same-sex marriage nor the marriage itself altered their agreement.  

The partnership agreement therefore constituted an enforceable waiver of Konou’s spousal rights.  The probate court judgment was affirmed. 

Questions

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