By Daniel Exner
Court-entered marriage settlement agreements are difficult to change because they are both court orders and contracts.
Some parties enter into these divorce settlements and down the road realize they got a raw deal or were not properly advised of future consequences and suddenly want to relinquish a decision they already approved.
What is a legal recourse available if you later want to retract a divorce agreement you signed off on?
Where I practice, a court order regarding property division is final and litigants may not return to court to amend that judgment unless they seek reversal with the Court of Appeals.
This policy exists because courts have an interest in finality and do not want parties returning to court every year to re-litigate their issues. Especially when it comes to family law issues, courts give parties numerous opportunities to settle or contest their issues before rendering a judgment but rarely allow modification unless it relates to child support obligations.
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There is one caveat to the rule against revision. In general, a party may ask a court for relief from a prior judgment because of mistake, excusable neglect, fraud, misrepresentation, misconduct, or other extraordinary reasons.
This relief may be given to any civil judgment, including property divisions in divorce judgments, but requires a substantial showing in court. Motions for Relief, like appeals, are also subject to strict time limitations.
Regret and after-the-fact counseling do not constitute the appropriate grounds for relief. If you had the ability to consult with a divorce lawyer, could appreciate your marital assets during the divorce, and/or voluntarily stipulated to the divorce judgment, you may have some difficulty later contesting an award in your divorce decree.