When you are making a big-ticket purchase such as a new car, you only have negotiating power before the sale is actually made. Because you can walk away if you don’t like the price or the terms of the payment plan, auto dealerships (and other sellers for that matter) must be willing to meet you at least part way. Once you “sign on the dotted line,” however, it is very difficult to change the terms you agreed to.
The same is true with divorce settlement agreements. It is far easier to negotiate terms before you and your spouse sign the agreement. This is one of the many reasons why you should never sign such an important document without first consulting your family law attorney.
Once a divorce settlement agreement is signed, it is generally governed under contract law. In Florida and many other states, contract terms cannot be changed or renegotiated after the fact except under certain circumstances. Grounds for modification include fraud, coercion and mutual mistake.
Let’s say that you signed a divorce settlement agreement but later found out that your spouse had been hiding assets. This would likely be grounds for modifying the terms of the contract. You might also be able to modify the terms if you can prove that your spouse had bullied you into signing (perhaps you didn’t have an attorney at the time and he/she did).
Finally, you may be able to challenge a divorce settlement agreement if you can prove that both parties made a mutual mistake. This essentially means that your settlement agreement doesn’t accurately reflect a provision that you and your spouse had agreed to before signing.
As a final note, the information above does not usually apply to child support or alimony, even if they were both stipulated to in the divorce settlement agreement. Courts reserve the right to modify these facets of the agreement over time to align with changing financial circumstances and other variables.
If you are currently going through a divorce or are about to start the process, please remember that once the divorce settlement agreement is signed, changing it can be very difficult and is not always possible. As such, you should only sign after carefully discussing the terms with your attorney.
Source: Naples News, “It’s The Law: Hard to change marital settlement agreement,” William Morris, May 7, 2014