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Mays v. Mullins

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

March 14, 2018

KATHY FRAZIER MAYS APPELLANT
v.
JACQUELINE MULLINS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, THIRTEENTH DIVISION [NO. 60PR-15-1136] HONORABLE W. MICHAEL REIF, JUDGE

          Ed Daniel IV, P.A., by: Ed Daniel IV, for appellant.

          Nixon, Light & Buzbee, PLLC, by: John B. Buzbee, for appellee.

          N. MARK KLAPPENBACH, JUDGE.

         Appellant Kathy Frazier Mays appeals the May 2017 order entered by the Pulaski County Circuit Court, probate division, finding that she failed to establish the invalidity of an antenuptial agreement. The parties to the 1995 antenuptial agreement were Kathy and Sedrick Mays. Sedrick died in June 2015. Kathy argues on appeal that the trial court's finding that the antenuptial agreement was enforceable against her is clearly erroneous and must be reversed. We disagree with her argument and affirm.

         The appellate court reviews probate proceedings de novo but will not reverse the decision of the probate court unless it is clearly erroneous. Seymour v. Biehslich, 371 Ark. 359, 266 S.W.3d 722 (2007). A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the appellate court is left on the entire evidence with the firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. Id. We must defer to the superior position of the lower court sitting in a probate matter to weigh the credibility of the witnesses. Patton v. Fulmer, 2016 Ark.App. 260, 492 S.W.3d 512. To the extent that the appellate court reviews questions of law, that review is de novo. Estate of Taylor v. MCSA, LLC, 2013 Ark. 429, 430 S.W.3d 120; Broussard v. St. Edward Mercy Health Sys., Inc., 2012 Ark. 14, 386 S.W.3d 385.

         Arkansas law has long recognized the validity of premarital[1] agreements. See, e.g., Oliphant v. Oliphant, 177 Ark. 613, 7 S.W.2d 783 (1928). In Arkansas, a premarital agreement is valid if it was freely entered into and is free from fraud and not inequitable. Arnold v. Arnold, 261 Ark. 734, 553 S.W.2d 251 (1977); Gooch v. Gooch, 10 Ark.App. 432, 664 S.W.2d 900 (1984). Parties contemplating marriage may, by agreement, fix the rights of each in the property of the other differently than established by law. Banks v. Evans, 347 Ark. 383, 64 S.W.3d 746 (2002); Hughes v. Hughes, 251 Ark. 63, 471 S.W.2d 355 (1971). In determining the fairness or equity of the agreement, the court may consider the parties' respective stations in life, their experiences and educations, and their knowledge of financial and legal matters. Banks, supra; Gooch, supra.

         At issue here is the enforcement of a premarital agreement, governed by Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-11-406, which provides in relevant part as follows:

(a) A premarital agreement is not enforceable if the party against whom enforcement is sought proves that:
(1) that party did not execute the agreement voluntarily; or
(2) the agreement was unconscionable when it was executed and, before execution of the agreement, that party:
(i) was not provided a fair and reasonable disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party;
(ii) did not voluntarily and expressly waive after consulting with legal counsel, in writing, any right to disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party beyond the disclosure provided; and
(iii) did not have, or reasonably could not have had, an adequate knowledge of the property or financial obligations of the other party. . . . .
(c) An issue of unconscionability of a premarital agreement shall be decided by the ...

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