You’ve probably signed various contractual documents in your life, including employment agreements, leases and mortgages. When reviewing those contracts, you may have taken great care to check over every paragraph before you signed and you may have sought legal advice, as well. As you’re going through the divorce process, it is important to approach a marital settlement agreement or a consent amendment in much the same way. You should engage in just as much care and caution before signing one of those as you would with, say, a contract for purchase of a house, because the agreement is just as binding and potentially just as impactful (if not more so.) To make sure that the agreement you ultimately sign is one that is fair to you, there are certain steps you should take. Start with retaining and consulting a skilled Maryland family law attorney before you sign anything.
J.S. and N.E. was a couple embroiled in litigation over an agreement signed after their divorce was finalized. Neither spouse was happy with their divorce judgment so, a few days after the entry of the judgment, the husband contacted the wife about making some modifications. Additionally, the husband proposed that the two ex-spouses work out those changes “without their respective attorneys’ involvement.”
An offer like this often should give you pause. If your spouse is proposing to modify your divorce judgment and making a point to do that without any attorneys involved, there is a distinct possibility that he is making that proposal because he believes that excluding counsel will give him an advantage in the final outcome.
In N.E.’s case, the modification document – called a “Consent Amendment” – had eight essential terms. One of the terms was that the judgment of absolute divorce was not appealable. When your ex-spouse is proposing the inclusion of a “no appeals” provision in a document that was, at his behest, negotiated without your lawyer, that should often be considered another a red flag and a cause for even greater concern. Nevertheless, this wife signed the document anyway.
That was a mistake. 11 days after she signed, she told her attorneys what she’d done. Four days after that, the wife told the husband she was rescinding the consent amendment. She and her legal team filed an appeal at the same time. All of that, however, was too late for the wife. The husband filed a motion asking the trial judge to enforce the consent amendment. The trial judge ruled in favor of the husband. The wife appealed but lost again.
Generally, once you’ve signed an agreement, it’s very hard to get it thrown out by a court
The only issue the wife was permitted to argue on appeal was that the consent amendment was not a valid and enforceable agreement. Generally, whether you’re talking about a prenuptial agreement, a marital settlement agreement or a consent amendment, there are only a few ways a contract signed by two parties can be thrown out.
You typically have to prove that the agreement was unconscionable, or else you have to provide evidence that your signature was procured either through fraud, duress or coercion. This wife didn’t have any of these things, so the appeals court ruled in favor of the husband.
The ancient Roman poet Virgil wrote the line, “Beware Greeks bearing gifts,” which refers to the Greeks’ defeat of Troy using the first “Trojan Horse.” You should also beware offers from your ex-spouse to sign binding contracts that are negotiated and signed without your attorney’s involvement and which contain “no appeals allowed” clauses. This wife’s unsuccessful outcome is a valuable cautionary tale. You hired your divorce attorney for a reason. You doubtlessly believed that he would serve as a valuable resource throughout the legal process. Don’t cast that resource aside when you need him most just because your ex suggested that it would be easier “without the lawyers.”
Whether you are seeking to obtain a divorce, have questions about property distribution, or are navigating the post-divorce process, count on knowledgeable Maryland family law attorney Anthony A. Fatemi to provide you with the representation you need at every step along the way. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.