The days and weeks that immediately follow the breakup of your marriage can be an incredibly trying time. You may feel hurt, confused, angry, frightened, overwhelmed, betrayed and a host of other emotions. You’ve experienced a great trauma, and like anyone living through that kind of pain, you may not be at your best in terms of decision-making. That includes making decisions like signing a marital settlement agreement. This is just one reason among the many why it pays to have a skilled Maryland divorce attorney on your side. You can trust your attorney to handle your legal affairs while you concentrate on managing your life.
Even if you’ve not heeded that advice, have made a bad decision by signing a bad settlement agreement without consulting an attorney, and later come to conclude that were taken advantage of, you still may have options. As one recent case illustrated, depending on just how extremely one-sided your marital settlement agreement was, you may be able to get it invalidated as ‘unconscionable’ under Maryland law.
In the recent case, the husband, G., and the wife, J., were married for six years when they separated in early 2015. Only a few days after the pair parted ways, the husband gave the wife a proposed marital settlement agreement, which the husband’s attorney had drafted. The agreement gave the husband the marital home, two rental properties, two cars, two motorcycles and all of the retirement accounts. The wife got a one-time payment of $7,000. Additionally, the agreement stated that the wife forever waived her right ever to pursue an alimony claim, either rehabilitative or permanent.
The wife should have consulted with an attorney before she did anything with that settlement agreement document other than read it, but she didn’t. Instead, she went ahead and signed the document without any advice from counsel.
The husband subsequently filed for divorce and sought to enforce the agreement. The wife, on the other hand, argued that the agreement was invalid and should be set aside. Additionally, she sought disclosures from the husband regarding the value of certain marital assets. The appeals court agreed with the wife that she was entitled to the information she sought.
Two options for proving that an agreement is ‘unconscionable’ in Maryland
The key thrust of the wife’s argument in favor throwing out the settlement agreement was that it was unconscionable. In Maryland, an agreement can be either substantively unconscionable or procedurally unconscionable. Procedural unconscionability relates to the processes through which the contract was created. Substantive unconscionability, which was the basis of this wife’s argument, means a contract that is so one-sided that it entitles the disadvantaged party to relief.
Simply because a contract favors one party over the other is not a basis for invalidating it. The disparity must be so great as to be unreasonable under Maryland law. The only way to know whether or not the terms of this settlement agreement met the law’s standards for unreasonableness was to know the exact value of the assets assigned to the husband and those assigned to the wife. To achieve that objective, the wife needed, and was entitled to, the disclosures she sought.
The above case, by the way, shows one of the possible answers to the question, “What can I do if I think I got fleeced on my Maryland marital settlement agreement?” – you can attack the agreement as unconscionable under Maryland law.
If your spouse is pressuring you to sign a marital settlement agreement, don’t give in to the urge to sign that document until you’ve first retained knowledgeable counsel and had your attorney review the contract thoroughly. You best plan, of course, is to be sure that you have an experienced attorney by your side through every step of the divorce process. Skilled Maryland divorce attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been diligently representing husbands and wives, providing the sort of effective advice and advocacy upon which you can rely. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.