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Can I have the settlement changed after I signed the agreement?

October 3, 2017

A settlement agreement is the document that lays out the things that you and your spouse have agreed on in the divorce. It spells out the exact agreements you’ve come to, and eliminates the need for the judge to make these decisions for you. A settlement agreement can include any number of things, including: child support, custody and visitation; spousal maintenance (AKA alimony); and distribution of assets and debts. It can include all of those things, or only some of them.

Can you change it? The answer depends.

Before the divorce is final
Before the divorce is made final, you may have a limited amount of time after you’ve signed and filed the settlement agreement during which you can change your mind. However, to do so, you would need to file a motion and present an argument about why the agreement should be rescinded. This is usually easier with an attorney.

There is no guarantee that the judge will agree to rescind the agreement.

After the divorce is final
Once the divorce is final, your options are limited. You can’t try to modify the agreement just because you’ve decided you’re unhappy with it or you’ve decided it isn’t fair.

Certain things that may be in the settlement agreement can be modified, depending on the situation. Child custody, support, and visitation are all matters that can be changed, if there’s been a significant change in circumstances for either party. In fact, changes in those things frequently happen.

Other things, such as the distribution of assets and debts, or spousal maintenance, are generally not modifiable. They were agreed upon when the settlement agreement was signed and filed, and unless you can prove fraud or a drastic change in circumstances, a judge is unlikely to allow any changes.

If both parties agree
One exception after the divorce is final is if both parties are in agreement that they wish to make the modification. If both parties consent, and sign off on, a new agreement, a judge will usually agree to the modification, unless it harms their children or is in some way unfair.

Don’t count on a modification

If you’re unhappy with something in the settlement agreement, don’t count on a modification later to change things. It’s important that you be satisfied with the terms of your settlement agreement before it’s filed, because it is likely permanent.

If you’re confused by something in the settlement agreement, ask your lawyer to help you. If you’re not satisfied with something in the agreement, continue negotiating with your spouse to try to find a better resolution. If you’re unable to agree, remember that a settlement agreement doesn’t have to cover everything. You can allow the judge to make a decision if you and your spouse are unable to find a middle ground that makes you both happy.

Take your time, and don’t let your spouse badger or persuade you to sign the agreement if you’re not happy. It’s better to wait and be satisfied with the settlement agreement, than to rush and find yourself stuck with terms you’re unhappy with later.

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