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When you’re going through the divorce process and you sign a settlement agreement, that is a legally binding contract. Both you and your spouse are bound by the terms of that contract. Although it’s uncommon to have settlements changed, there are a few potential scenarios when it can happen.
Having a Settlement Changed Before a Judge Signs It
If you have a change of heart on a settlement, the best time to get it changed is before the judge can sign it and make it official, although whether you can do this depends on the laws in your state.
Time is obviously of the essence in this situation. After you sign the agreement, your lawyer sends it to the court to become part of the divorce decree. The judge must sign divorce decree to make it official.
Let your divorce lawyer know right away if you no longer want to go through with the settlement. If they haven’t sent anything in yet, then the settlement won’t become official. If they have, they may be able to stop it before it goes before the judge by contacting the court. You’ll need to contact the court yourself if you didn’t have a divorce lawyer.
Should this work and you get the settlement stopped before it becomes official, you can propose your desired changes.
Having a Settlement Changed After It’s Official
It’s more difficult to make changes after your divorce decree is official, unless your ex-spouse is okay with changing the agreement. If they are, you two can both sign a new agreement to present to the court. There may need to be a hearing to ensure that you both accept this new settlement, but as long as both parties agree to it, the process of changing the settlement is typically simple enough.
Without your ex-spouse’s consent, you need to file a motion with the court to open the divorce case again and change the settlement. There needs to be a valid reason for this, because the court won’t change your settlement simply because you no longer like it. There are two common reasons that can work in this instance.
The Original Settlement Was Invalid
You can claim that the circumstances involved with the original settlement make it invalid. This would be the case if either party lacked the mental capacity to fully understand what they were signing at the time, if you were forced in some way to sign the agreement or if your spouse committed fraud, such as concealing assets.
Of course, the burden of proof will be on you in this situation. If the court reopens your divorce case, you’ll need evidence that your allegations are accurate.
A Significant Change in Circumstances
The more common scenario where a settlement gets changed is when a spouse’s circumstances change significantly since the settlement was signed. For example, if your ex-spouse is paying spousal support and they get a new position that pays much more than their previous one, you could seek a change in the support amount. If your settlement specified that each of you sees your children for a certain amount of time, but your ex-spouse becomes addicted to drugs, you could seek a change to prevent your ex-spouse from being alone with your children.
Any changes to a settlement will be at the discretion of the court. The more evidence you have to support your motion, the more likely it is that the court will approve the change.
Remember that you must abide by the terms of a settlement until it is officially changed. If you want to change a settlement that you and your ex-spouse signed, you should consult with a divorce lawyer who can advise you on if a court is likely to approve the change, file the motion for you and represent you if your divorce case gets reopened.