By: Kieran Crowly and Dan Mangan of the New York Post
divorce “floodgates” have been opened for married folks to claim they were bullied into signing prenups after The Post revealed a landmark court decision that tossed out a Long Island couple’s agreement, lawyers said yesterday. “It gives those litigants a leg to stand on,” famed Christie Brinkley divorce lawyer Robert Wallack said about a February appellate panel ruling that voided a prenup between a Nassau County real-estate executive and his wife.
The Brooklyn Appellate Court panel ruled that Peter Petrakis, who controls $20 million in real estate, had “fraudulently induced” his wife, Elizabeth, to sign their prenup four days before their wedding.
Peter, the panel found, threatened to call off the wedding if Elizabeth didn’t sign. She felt coerced because her dad had already paid $40,000 for a reception.
Elizabeth claimed Peter verbally promised to rip up the prenup once they had kids. They eventually had three.
Peter claims he never made that promise.
The panel found his credibility “suspect.”
The Petrakis case is “shocking,” Wallack said, because “it is the first time the court has accepted verbal promises over what is written in the agreement.
“The problem with that is that you have courts getting involved in this credibility debate and deciding who to believe . . . we always used to rely on what’s in the writing.”
“It’s a really dangerous, slippery slope,” said the lawyer, who repped Brinkley in her split from her fourth hubby, Peter Cook.
Cook had challenged his prenup with the supermodel, but they ended up agreeing to a $2.1 million settlement.
The Petrakis ruling allows Elizabeth’s divorce case to proceed — with no prenup.
Her lawyer, Dennis D’Antonio, said he had gotten more than 20 messages yesterday morning from people wanting to challenge their own prenups — and from other lawyers who had such clients.
Marilyn Chinitz, a top Manhattan matrimonial lawyer, said it was a new era for divorce cases.
“This opens up, in my opinion, a floodgate of litigation because the appellate court did not specifically detail the matters they were relying on in affirming the lower court’s decision,” said Chinitz, whose clients have included Michael Douglas and Tom Cruise.
She said the ruling was “not a good decision for those who enter into prenuptial agreements because they expect for agreements to be honored by both the courts and the parties.”
Jeffrey Cohen, who represented “Catch-22” author Joseph Heller and rocker Lou Reed in their splits, called the decision “a fairly dangerous precedent” that “is going to be a weapon to be used whenever anyone wants to say coercion was used” to get them to sign a prenup.