Florida divorce settlements are supposed to be final. Courts are overwhelmed with the sheer number of cases, and with limited resources, there simply isn’t enough time to revisit the vast majority of them. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to reopen a divorce settlement. In some limited circumstances, divorce settlements can be set aside.
If you believe you have a good reason to take another look at your settlement, let Orlando Family Team help. We’re experienced in all aspects of Florida divorce law. We can review the circumstances in your case and advise as to your legal options.
Why It’s So Hard To Reopen Divorce Settlements
In Florida, divorce settlements are basically contracts. That means contract principles apply to how courts view their enforcement. And as with any other contract you enter into, courts generally expect the parties to live up to their agreement.
There are also practical limitations to reopening a divorce settlement. These agreements affect the parties’ financial, debt, and property interests, resolving such matters as equitable distribution. Once the agreement is accepted by the court, it becomes an order and the parties are expected to start following its terms. That means, for example, the spouse that agreed to be responsible for a marital debt will start paying it down.
Trying to reverse these actions by getting back in front of a judge – who is already busy with other family law cases – is why reopening divorce settlements is so challenging.
What would justify reopening a divorce settlement?
Just because it’s difficult to reopen and set aside a divorce settlement doesn’t mean it cannot be done. Before you decide whether to reopen your settlement or live with it, you owe it to yourself to speak with a qualified Florida family law attorney.
These are a few of the cases in which reopening your settlement may be an option:
Fraud. The spouse wishing to set aside the divorce settlement would need to prove there was some act of fraud during the negotiation process leading to the agreement. That means the other spouse engaged in some deliberate act of deception that was designed to gain an unfair upper hand. An example would be producing a fraudulent financial affidavit that contained false information about the spouse’s income. Or the spouse might have concealed assets which, had you and your attorney known of them, would have affected negotiations.
Misrepresentation. This term is often used interchangeably with fraud. It happens when the other spouse misrepresents something material to the agreement, which means it undermines the entire settlement and defeats the purpose of making it in the first place.
Duress. In law, duress is unlawful pressure put on someone to try to force them to make a decision or agree to something they otherwise would not. The classic example of duress is threatening to harm someone unless they sign an agreement (like a divorce settlement). The threat must be credible, and the spouse who was threatened must have reasonably believed the other spouse could follow through on it.
Coercion. This is similar in many ways to duress but may involve some other form of pressure besides the threat of violence. If you believe your spouse wrongfully took actions to make you do something against your will, you may argue for coercion.
Unconscionability. An unconscionable divorce settlement is one that is so one-sided or advantageous to one party (and disadvantageous to the other) as to be considered unreasonable. For example, an agreement that would make it impossible for one spouse to survive on what they received might be viewed as unconscionable.
Many of these terms are similar to one another, and proving their existence isn’t easy. If you think your situation matches one of the above requirements, it’s important to speak right away with an experienced Florida divorce attorney.
What would not support reopening my Florida divorce settlement?
It’s not enough to believe you didn’t get the best deal in your divorce settlement. In other words, if you sign the agreement and later have second thoughts about it, that won’t be enough to reopen the matter. The same is true if you later think of another strategy you or your attorney could have used during negotiations.
You also need more than a mere suspicion that the other spouse did something wrong. Simply believing your husband or wife hid assets or lied about their income won’t be enough to get the court to reopen your settlement. You need compelling evidence to justify revisiting the issue.
To assert any of the above arguments for reopening or setting aside your divorce settlement, you need to meet the appropriate legal standard. For example, duress doesn’t just mean you were stressed out or nervous about your divorce. That sort of pressure is normal for anyone going through a divorce. Duress has to meet a specific definition.
Are there other options?
Your exact circumstances may not even require reopening the settlement. You may be able to have the settlement modified, either through a direct agreement with the other spouse or by way of a court action. There are strict requirements for modifying a divorce settlement, so speak with a knowledgeable family law attorney first.
If the other spouse is not following the terms of the divorce settlement, trying to reopen or set it aside should not be your objective. Instead, you will want to have the court step in to enforce the agreement through a contempt action. Contempt is a powerful legal remedy, and you could be able to require the other spouse to pay your attorney’s fees and court costs.
Orlando Family Team Can Help With Your Divorce Settlement
If you’re wondering about your divorce settlement and whether you can revisit it, give us a call at Orlando Family Team. We can also explore other strategies like modification or contempt that may apply to your case. Regardless of the issues you’re facing, we’re here to help. Schedule your consultation with us today.