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Can I Challenge an Unfair Divorce Settlement in Massachusetts?
Divorce is by its very nature often messy, emotionally fraught and frustrating. Somehow or other an agreement has to be made about shared assets, property and child custody. The longer a couple has been together, the greater the number of children and the more intertwined the two’s financial affairs are, the longer it can take to sort out a divorce agreement. Rarely are the two spouses totally equal when it comes to sorting out an agreement which means that when an agreement is finally thrashed out, it often leaves one of the two spouses unsatisfied and often resentful. Worse, one of the two ex-spouses may later discover facts about the other partner’s financial affairs which make them think that the agreement made before divorce was unfair.
Is it too late to challenge the divorce settlement after the divorce decree has been finalized? The good news is that it is possible, although not easy. You are advised to get help from an experienced divorce attorney before going ahead with contesting a settlement.
The criteria for challenging an unfair divorce settlement
To challenge what you believe is an unfair divorce settlement you will need to file a petition with the Probate and Family Court. Generally, the court in Massachusetts does not take kindly to a petition to change a settlement, especially if the divorce had to go to court in the first place. It will only consider reopening a divorce settlement if there are compelling reasons to do so. In particular, you will need to show that you have uncovered information about your spouse’s circumstances that you were not aware of beforehand, which has revealed that the agreement was inherently unfair, or that you only agreed to the settlement through coercion. Some of the criteria that you could use to persuade a court to reopen your divorce settlement are explored further below.
Your ex spouse did not admit to finances he/ she had when the agreement was made.
This is really a case of deceit or fraud. When a court decides on partitioning a couple’s assets, there are several factors that are considered. Generally, in Massachusetts, a couple’s shared assets are divided 50/50, with the only exceptions being assets that were acquired by one spouse or another before marriage or assets acquired through inheritance. A prenuptial agreement may also alter this typical division of marital assets. For a court to be able to make a decision about the division of assets, it must have full access to a complete breakdown of what is owned. This would include bank deposits, property, household items, stocks and shares, and any other assets that have some kind of identifiable value. You may have good grounds to contest a settlement if you discover that your ex-spouse concealed assets, or minimized the value of assets that could have been included in the division calculation.
The divorce agreement was made under duress.
If the agreement was made in a situation in which you were forced to agree to the conditions of the agreement, then this is an example of duress. There are various ways in which this could have happened. You could have experienced intimidation which may have been psychological or even physical. The use of physical threat of violence would be good grounds for contesting the divorce settlement, usually because you may have agreed to take less than your fair share under state divorce settlement rules because you were afraid of the consequences if you objected.
The settlement involved a mistake.
Mistakes can be made in which neither spouse is to blame, but the result of the mistake is that one or the other spouse benefits unfairly. If you discover that a mistake has been made which has resulted in you receiving less than your fair share of marital property then this could be reasonable grounds for challenging the agreement.
Challenging custody arrangements
A divorce settlement is not made purely on financial grounds. If you have shared children, you will have needed to come to an agreement about such things as who cares for the children, visitation rights and times, and child support arrangements. This can become as difficult a challenge as sorting out shared assets. Whatever arrangement you, or the Probate and Family Law Court, decides, there is always a chance that you may want to change the custody arrangements later based on your or your ex spouse’s circumstances or what you feel is best for your children. If it was the Court that made a decision about child custody arrangements, then it will have done so in what it considered at the time the best interests of the children. The court is unlikely to reconsider the arrangements unless you have convincing evidence that the “best interests” of the children are no longer being met, resulting in the need to change the custody conditions in some way.
Most requests to change custody arrangements are regarded as “modifications” of the original agreement. For this reason, unlike challenges to financial settlement, requests to modify custody can take place at any time after the divorce assuming that the children involved remain minors and therefore dependent on their parents.
Use an experienced divorce attorney to help you challenge a divorce settlement
Challenging a divorce settlement after it has been made is not easy in Massachusetts. You must have convincing evidence that one of the justifications outlined above applies to your situation. You will find that an experienced divorce attorney will be able to help you appeal a divorce settlement decision by preparing your case carefully before you file a petition with the court. Contact the Law Offices of Richard Mucci at 781-729-3999 or fill in the online form for a free initial consultation.