Supreme Court New York County
Back in 2006, the Law Office of Yonatan Levoritz took on a case involving same-sex marriage and civil nuptial agreements. The case presented a novel question of law: If a same-sex couple was not legally married, could they nonetheless still have a valid agreement as to how to divide property in the event that they break up? The court determined that they could. Although a same-sex marriage from Massachusetts was invalid in New York at that time, an accompanying nuptial agreement between the parties was held to be valid.
The parties to the case, David Gonzalez and Steven Green (Yonatan Levoritz’s client), lived in New York. They were married in Massachusetts in 2005 after that state legalized same-sex marriage. The couple also had an agreement stipulating that, upon divorce, spousal support would consist of a one-time payment $780,000 (from Green to Gonzales). The couple split up in 2006 and Gonzales filed for divorce.
At that time, same-sex marriage was recognized in Massachusetts, but not in New York. Therefore, under New York law the two men were not married. However, the judge determined that despite this, the matrimonial agreement to pay $780,000 was valid. Just because the marriage was invalid, the court reasoned, did not mean that the separate financial agreement was invalid as well.
Justice Phyllis Gangel-Jacob held that:
“New York courts have long accepted the concept that an express agreement between unmarried persons living together is as enforceable as though they were not living together provided only that illicit sexual relations were not part of the consideration of the contract.
The theory is that while cohabitation without marriage does not give rise to the property and financial rights which normally attend the marital relation, neither does cohabitation disable the parties from making an agreement within the normal rules of contract law.”
This case shows that New York courts strive to uphold contracts. Freedom of contract—the right of individuals to make binding agreements with each other—is highly valued. Therefore, even though New York did not recognize the marriage between the parties, the courts still upheld the validity of the agreement they made.
Attorney Yonatan Levoritz handled this case. If you would like more information about this case or have questions about your own potential divorce or family law case, contact the Law Office of Yonatan Levoritz today.