After weeks of negotiation, you and your soon-to-be former spouse agree to a divorce settlement which makes everyone happy. All issues, from child custody to the division of property are decided and agreed upon, and you are finally ready to move forward with your life. Suddenly, your spouse changes his or her mind about the settlement agreement, and refuses to follow through with it. What are your options?
Changes Before A Settlement Is Finalized
Usually, two people enter into a divorce settlement after attending a mediation, or after negotiations between their attorneys. Once an agreement has been reached, both parties will sign the settlement, and it will be forwarded to a judge who will incorporate the agreement into the final divorce decree.
If a person changes his or her mind before he or she signs the settlement agreement, the negotiations will simply resume again. Since nothing has been agreed to, there is nothing to reverse or stop.
Once the paperwork has been signed, there is a limited amount of time to rescind the settlement agreement before the judge finalizes it. Usually, an attorney will need to file a motion immediately, and present an argument to the court about why the agreement should be rescinded.
Filing a motion does not mean that the judge will agree to throw out the settlement—divorce settlements are a contract, and judges assume that adults enter into contracts after thoroughly reviewing them and contemplating their options. However, it is easier to rescind a divorce agreement before it is entered into the divorce decree than it is to change it afterward.
Changes After The Final Divorce Decree
If a spouse changes his or her mind after the divorce decree is entered, he or she will have limited options. For example, a person who is unhappy with the divorce decree cannot appeal a judge’s decision if he or she signed off on the paperwork. Instead, that person’s only option would be to convince the court to reopen the case and rescind the agreement.
In general, a court will only agree to do this if either circumstances have drastically changed, or if one person can prove that the other committed fraud during the divorce negotiations. For example, if two people agreed upon terms for spousal or child support, only to find later that one of them was hiding assets or income, the judge may agree to reopen the case in order to make the settlement more equitable.
Finally, the judge may agree to change the divorce decree if both spouses consent to, and sign off on, a
new agreement. In this situation, the judge will usually allow the changes to the decree unless it harms the former couple’s children or is unfair in some way.
Because changing a divorce decree can be so difficult, it is necessary that both parties to a divorce are satisfied with the terms of their settlement agreement and are willing to live by them for the foreseeable future. The best way to make sure this happens is to take the time necessary to thoroughly discuss the ramifications of the agreement with your attorney before signing any legal paperwork.
At Pacific Northwest Family Law, our attorneys work hard to create marital settlement agreements that fairly and adequately compensate both parties for their time spent in the marriage. Our lawyers use multiple tactics to help divorcing couples decide on a fair and equitable support agreement, and achieve great successes using mediation, collaboration, and arbitration.
To learn more about your options when seeking a divorce, contact us today by calling 509-572-3700.