McKoan v McKoan
Decided on April 3, 2007
Supreme Court, Westchester County
Anna McKoan, Plaintiff,
Joel McKoan, Jr., Defendant.
Lewis Jay Lubell, J.
The issued currently before the Court is whether to apply the substantive law of the State of New York or Connecticut to the prenuptial agreement which is the subject of this Matrimonial Action. There is no dispute and the Court so finds that any issue relating to the formalities of the execution of the prenuptial agreement are governed by Connecticut law.
At the outset, the Court rejects plaintiff's contention that defendant made a formal judicial admission that the substantive law of Connecticut applies to the interpretation and application of the prenuptial agreement. While defendant's admission in his Verified Answer that the underlying prenuptial agreement was executed "in accordance with Connecticut law" may constitute a judicial admission that Connecticut law applies to the procedural contractual requirements of the prenuptial agreement, it is not such a broad statement as to constitute an admission regarding the application of the substantive law of Connecticut. [*2]
Upon the following facts and applicable law, the Court concludes that the substantive law of the forum state, the State of New York, is applicable to the interpretation, application and enforcement of the parties' prenuptial agreement.
Plaintiff Anna McKoan, now 44, and defendant Joel McKoan, Jr., now 49, met in the State of New York in 1986. They soon started dating. At that time, plaintiff resided in Marlboro, New York; defendant in Manhattan. In 1987, defendant purchased a house in New Milford, Connecticut, (the "Connecticut Residence") where, prior to their marriage, the parties periodically resided during vacations, holidays, and most weekends.
The parties were married in the State of Connecticut on August 13, 1988. One month prior thereto, on July 16, 1988, the parties executed a prenuptial agreement (the "Prenuptial Agreement") at the Danbury, Connecticut, law office of Reifberg, Smart, Donohue & NeJame, P.C. under the supervision of Connecticut attorney Christopher T. Donohue, Esq. In short, the Prenuptial Agreement provides that separate property owned prior to the marriage remained separate property, assets acquired during the marriage which was titled in their respective sole names would remain separate property, and all jointly titled assets would be equitably divided. The application currently before the Court is necessitated by the absence of a choice of law provision in the Prenuptial Agreement.
As is reflected in the Prenuptial Agreement, at the time of its execution, the parties were residing at the Connecticut Residence. Although the parties had considered making the Connecticut Residence their marital residence, they moved to Manhattan soon after their wedding. Upon doing so and until its sale in 1989, the parties used the Connecticut Residence as a vacation home. In 1989 they also built a home in and moved to Goldens Bridge, New York. They resided there until 1998 when they sold the Goldens Bridge home and moved to a house in Waccabuc, New York. They resided together in Waccabuc until the commencement of this action. Shortly, thereafter, defendant moved to White Plains, New York. Upon the October 2006 sale of the Waccabuc marital residence, plaintiff purchased a home in Danbury, Connecticut. In turn, defendant purchased and moved into a home in the school district in which the now former Waccabuc marital residence was located.
All of the parties three children were born in New York. The parties' two eldest children continue to attend school in New York despite plaintiff's move to Connecticut. Both plaintiff and defendant have worked exclusively in New York prior to and during [*3]their marriage.
The only Connecticut asset to speak of is the Connecticut Residence which has long since been sold. The parties have not identified any other assets in Connecticut over which to litigate.
In Auten v. Auten (308 NY 155, 160 ; see also, Babcock v. Jackson, 12 NY2d 473 ), the Court of Appeals departed from the traditional "territorially oriented" approach to choice-of-law issues which, generally, applies the law of the location where one principal event took place, such as where an agreement was entered into or performed (see, Schultz v. Boy Scouts, 65 NY2d 189 ). In its place, the Court adopted the more flexible "center of gravity" or "grouping of contacts" theory of conflict of laws. This theory takes into account such factors as "the place of contracting, negotiation and performance; the location of the subject matter of the contract; and the domicile of the contracting parties" (Matter of Allstate Ins. [Stolarz], 81 NY2d 219, 227 ). In actions involving contracts, this approach affords jurisdictions "having the most interest in the problems paramount control over the legal issues arising out of the contracts [with its] methodology apply[ing] the policy of the jurisdiction most intimately concerned with the outcome of the case at issue . . ." (Munzer v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co. , 203 AD2d 770, 772 [3d Dept., 1994]).
As between New York and Connecticut, application of the "grouping of contacts" theory leads the Court to plainly conclude that the dispute over the disposition of the parties' assets centers on New York where, perhaps with some minor exception not presented to the Court, all of the parties' assets are located to the exclusion of Connecticut. Even when according greater weight to the place where the contract was entered and the then residence of the parties (see, Matter of Havemeyer, 17 NY2d 216, 221 ; Madison Realty, Inc. v. Neiss, 253 AD2d 482, 483 [2d Dept., 1998]), the Court finds that the facts of this case warrant a finding that the material and relevant contacts established between the Prenuptial Agreement and New York are greater than those tying it Connecticut. In addition, the State of Connecticut lacks any significant nexus to the distribution of the parties' assets, all of which are outside of its borders, as well as any public policy interest in how such property is distributed to parties such as these who, except for plaintiff's post-commencement move, have not resided in Connecticut in over eighteen years and, in any event, whose Connecticut residency in any capacity (married/single or primary/secondary) was short-lived. [*4]
Based upon the foregoing, the Court hereby holds that Connecticut law applies to the formalities of the execution of the Prenuptial Agreement and New York law applies to the substantive issues.
The foregoing constitutes the Opinion, Decision & Order of the Court.
Dated:White Plains, New York
April 3, 2007
HON. LEWIS J. LUBELL, J.S.C.
TO:COLLIER, HALPERN, NEWBERG
One North Lexington Avenue
White Plains, NY 10601
KASOWITZ, BENSON, TORRES
New York, NY 10019