Dealing with a small headache now (like getting a document executed properly) can prevent huge headaches later (like a judge declaring the document null and void).
In New York, all types of family law (including divorce) documents and agreements require the signature of a notary public. Such documents include prenuptial, child custody, property and support agreements, and divorce papers.
It’s not unusual, however, for a client to consider it a headache to seek out a notary public to acknowledge their signature. At Keil & Siegel LLP we have received probably hundreds (we lost count) of requests from clients to disregard the notary rules or to ignore the notary request all together. Our answer is always the same: “Sorry. We cannot ignore those requirements. Not even for you.”
The May 2013 New York case of Galetta v. Galetta confirms that clients not only should use a proper notary, but should check to make sure the notary is familiar with the New York requirements and will properly execute the document.
In Galetta the parties entered into a prenuptial agreement prior to their wedding. It declared that all property listed therein would remain separate in the event of a divorce. Further, the agreement provided that in the event of a dissolution of the marriage, neither party would seek spousal support or maintenance from the other. When the husband commenced a divorce action, the wife sought to have the prenuptial agreement invalidated because the husband’s notary did not contain a certificate of acknowledgment confirming the husband’s identity. Seems like a trivial point, right?
Not so. The case went up to New York’s highest court, which invalidated the entire prenuptial agreement. The court based its holding on the premise that the husband’s certificate of acknowledgement was fatally defective. The court cited the landmark case of Matisoff v. Dobi, 90 N.Y.2d 127, 133 (1997), which held that the notary’s acknowledgment serves to prove the identity of the person whose name appears on the instrument, while also imposing a measure of deliberation on the signor in the act of executing the document.
These cases are just examples of many that confirm the importance of formality when signing legal documents. What should you do? Take care to do it correctly from the start. There are so many reasons why litigation ensues as a result of ambiguous or incomplete phrases within legal documents.
Something as simple as having the notary public present to execute the document properly is essential to reduce any cause for concern as to the document’s validity. It is sometimes the simple things that get overlooked and end up causing the most headache.
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