A comedic TV commercial series features disgruntled car buyers hiding their identities behind masks and disguises. They are mortified because they found out, only after they made their purchase, that they ended up “paying too much” for their used car. There’s a little bit of a legal lesson in this, which is: be absolutely certain before you sign a contract on the bottom line because, once you do, it is generally very difficult to avoid the promises you made in that document. That’s true of a marital settlement agreement, as well, which is why you definitely should consult an experienced Maryland divorce attorney before signing one of those documents.
K.J. was a spouse whose divorce case was a clear example of “post-execution regret.” In 2011, with his marriage broken down, he signed a marital settlement agreement with his wife. One of the terms in that contract, “Paragraph 20,” stated that the husband would pay the wife 1/3 of any settlement or judgment he received from a personal injury lawsuit that was pending at the time of the divorce.
The injury case in question was not your ordinary case, though. It was a lawsuit arising from injuries the husband suffered in the Beirut barracks bombings of 1983, the defendant was the government of Iran, and the claim for damages was extremely large.
Mere months after signing the settlement agreement and 24 days after the divorce became final, K.J. won his injury case. The court awarded him more than $32.5 million in damages. He received his first payment, in the amount of $1.59 million, in late 2016.
The ex-husband subsequently engaged in a determined effort to get the divorce judgment vacated and the settlement agreement thrown out so that he would not be obliged to pay the wife the 1/3 he promised. He made technical arguments about whether the divorce judgment was a “final judgment” or not. (If it was not a final judgment, the trial judge would retain authority to revise it, including changing or throwing out Paragraph 20 of the settlement agreement.)
Alternately, the husband argued that, even if the divorce judgment did qualify as a final judgment under Maryland law, it had an “irregularity” in it that subjected it to revision at any time.
Both arguments failed. The divorce judgment was a final order, and there were no irregularities. The wife was entitled to the benefit of the bargain for which she contracted in the 2011 settlement agreement, meaning she was entitled to receive 1/3 of the husband’s proceeds from the injury case.
You have many more options before you sign than after
There are actually relatively few ways to get an otherwise valid contract thrown out. They generally involve situations where there was fraud, deceit or improper coercion, where there was something in the agreement that the judge finds was “unconscionable,” or where there was something in the agreement that violates Maryland public policy.
Getting the proof you need under any of these bases and getting a marital settlement agreement (or any kind of contract) tossed out by a court is actually a very difficult thing to do, and the majority of these efforts are unsuccessful.
The best course of action is to make sure, before your sign, that the property distribution in your marital settlement agreement fairly protects your interests. To do that, make sure you have the right legal team negotiating for you, advocating for you and advising you. Look to the experienced family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to be that effective legal advocate for you. To learn more about how we can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.