If you are involved in a divorce case, it’s vitally important that you seek legal representation. A lawyer can help advance and protect your interests and inform you of your rights and options along the way. If you don’t retain a lawyer, you’re on your own. As a recent ruling from the Fourth District Court of Appeals shows, you also probably won’t be able to undo any agreements that you enter into without attorney representation.
Wife filed for divorce from Husband in 2012 and followed that up with a petition for a domestic violence restraining order less than a year later. She asked specifically that a court order Husband to move out of the family home and stay away from both Wife and the child’s 18-year-old daughter. She said she and Daughter were fearful of Husband because he had physically abused Wife and verbally abused Daughter, and that he suffered from “psychological disorders” and often brandished a gun. Wife alleged that Husband had recently told her “since I’m schizophrenic, I could kill you,” while Daughter was present.
A court later granted a temporary restraining order. On the day of a hearing to consider a permanent injunction, Husband and Wife met in the courthouse and discussed settling both cases. Wife was represented by an attorney, but Husband was not. They entered into a stipulation agreement, providing that Wife would get exclusive possession of the family home, and that the home would eventually become hers if she were able to refinance a loan on the property within two years. If she were unable to refinance, the agreement stated that Wife would be required to sell the property and split the proceeds with Husband.
The stipulation further provided that each party would get all possessions – including vehicles – currently in their possession, that Wife would get the entire amount of her retirement accounts, and that neither party would be entitled to spousal support. Wife also agreed to vacate the restraining order as a condition of Husband signing the stipulation.
At some point after the agreement was reached and approved by a court, Husband decided it was a bad deal. He petitioned to have the stipulation set aside, arguing that he had been “under duress” at the time, that he wasn’t aware of his right to his own lawyer, and that he didn’t have adequate time to review the agreement. Husband also said he’d felt intimidated by Wife’s attorney and pressured to sign the judgment because of the permanent restraining order hanging over his head.
The trial court told Husband: “too bad.” The court found that Husband entered into the agreement voluntarily and that he’d waived any rights to later challenge its terms. The Fourth District agreed on appeal. “The record contains ample evidence to support the finding of the court that husband voluntarily and freely entered into the stipulated judgment, a finding we cannot disturb on appeal,” the appeals court said. That he did so without the counsel of a lawyer was not enough for Husband to undo the deal, according to the Fourth District.
This case is just one example of why a person who is getting divorced should seek the advice and counsel of a lawyer. While the allegations against Husband here were serious, the court’s decision could apply to any person who enters into a settlement agreement in a divorce case without legal representation.
San Jose divorce lawyer John S. Yohanan has more than 30 years of experience helping clients resolve a property disposition, spousal support and a wide variety of other issues on optimal terms. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
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