Virginia Equitable Estoppel: Va. Code Ann. § 20-147, et. seq. – a Lawyer’s Extension

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Principles of equitable estoppel apply to all areas of Virginia law. Virginia’s Premarital Agreement Act (“Act”), Va. Code Ann. § 20-147, et. seq., is no exception.

Under the Act, a spouse need not sign the agreement at the same time as the other spouse, or even before suit is filed. In Wilson v. Wilson, 2004 Va. App. LEXIS 17, *2-4 (2004), husband alone signed the agreement and delivered it to wife on February 25, 1999; filed a bill of complaint more than two years later on December 31, 2001, alleging no agreement; and was met with a cross-bill asserting the agreement. Husband unsuccessfully contended that “the agreement was invalid because wife signed it only after husband filed his bill of complaint.” Id. at 5. Wilson upheld the commissioner’s finding that “the agreement was a valid, enforceable contract,” observing “no requirement that the execution of the agreement by wife be contemporaneous with that of husband.” Id. at 3-5.

“The principle of equitable estoppel applies to antenuptial agreements.” Miller v. Miller, 2007 Va. App. LEXIS 340, *9 (2007). “Elements necessary to establish equitable estopppel, absent a showing of fraud and deception, are a representation, reliance, a change of position, and detriment.” Id. at *10. “[I]t is a well established principle in Virginia jurisprudence that marital agreements are, when all is said and done, contracts which must be interpreted and enforced in accordance with the general rules of contract law. McCall v. McCall, 43 Va. Cir. 296, 301 (Rockingham Sep. 4, 1997). “The Courts in Virginia have long held that the doctrine of estoppel or equitable estoppel is available in all proceedings including those relating to property settlement agreements . . . .” Id. “In fact the Premarital Agreement Act itself provides [and] does not abolish all of the other equitable defenses, such as laches or estopppel that are available to litigants in a court of equity.” IdMcCall applied the “equitable estoppel defense” where the “wife relied to her clear detriment upon the implied representation of the [husband]” Id. at 302.