Seven Day Rule Makes Cameo Appearance in the "The Good Wife" - Women's Foundation California

Sheila-kuehlBy Sheila Kuehl, former California Legislator and author of California’s “Seven Day Rule”

If you’d seen Sunday’s (January 17, 2013) episode of The Good Wife, you would have witnessed an example of public policy in action – and a law I authored.

During the episode, the attorneys at Lockhart/Gardner found themselves intimately involved with the upcoming nuptials of Neil Gross, the billionaire owner of the Chum Hum search engine. Deena, Neil’s fiancee and a lawyer herself, came to Lockhart/Gardner to get a “second opinion” on a prenuptial agreement that had been presented to her by Neil and his lawyers.

Deena made it clear she was in love and not interested in details about the money. But she was there at the urging of her father, who wanted to make sure his daughter was protected in case the marriage ended.

David Lee, head of the firm’s family law practice, immediately declared the 68-page prenup to be unacceptable. The attorneys started negotiations with the issue of jurisdiction: Texas or California? Alicia Florrick said jurisdiction should be in California because, “California law is friendlier to the dependent spouse, Texas not so friendly.”

Neil’s attorney immediately caught on and said the real reason Lockhart/Gardner wanted the jurisdiction to be California is the “Seven Day Rule,” which requires someone who is presented with a prenup to have at least seven days to review the prenup with an independent attorney before having to sign it in order for it to be enforceable. Neil and Deena’s wedding, however, would occur in nine days, which meant the lawyers had just 48 hours to come up with an agreement that worked for both sides.

Art really does imitate life, especially in TV shows about lawyers!  California’s “Seven Day Rule” became law after legislation I authored was signed in 2001.

The bill came about because the California Supreme Court had upheld the validity of a prenuptial agreement between Barry Bonds and his then-wife Sun Bonds. In the prenuptial agreement, Sun had waived any interest in his future earnings, which would have been half hers without the agreement. The papers were put in front of her just hours before their wedding and Sun, a Swedish native with very limited proficiency in English, signed it with no attorney.

When the Bonds’ divorced six years later, after having two kids together, Sun challenged the validity of the prenup because, among other things, Barry was represented by a lawyer and she was not when she signed the agreement. The California Supreme Court upheld the validity of the prenuptual agreement, finding that Sun had voluntarily entered into the agreement.

Why did I author the bill? I have always had an interest in family law.  I was a family law practitioner before I taught law and had taught several classes on gender and law before I was in the Legislature.  This struck me as a pretty clear problem for the (mostly women) spouses of high-earners, and one that my colleagues would be sympathetic to fix.  A simple rule that there would have to be sufficient time before a wedding for an attorney to, at least, tell the prospective spouse just what the agreement meant was fairly easy to sell.  The bill passed and was signed and now we can all see how it works on TV!

Sheila Kuehl is the President of Kuehl Consulting, and serves as Founding Director of the Public Policy Institute at Santa Monica College. She is the first openly gay or lesbian person to be elected to the California Legislature and served in the California State Assembly from 1994-2000 and the State Senate from 2000-2008.

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