Marital settlement agreements are an important legal tool for divorcing spouses. These binding contracts give a couple the chance to resolve many of the issues related to a divorce without leaving them for a judge to decide. As a recent decision out of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals makes clear, however, it is important to understand that these agreements are binding. Once you enter a settlement agreement, it’s going to be tough to get out of it.
Husband and Wife separated in 2010, following nearly 18 years of marriage. They later entered into a marital settlement agreement resolving issues related to their divorce. Two years later, however, Wife went back to court and asked a judge to set that agreement aside. She said Husband didn’t disclose his assets and never properly explained to her the extent of a family business. Although she primarily speaks Spanish and has a hard time understanding English, Wife said no one translated the document for her or otherwise explained to her what she was getting into by signing it.
The family court sided with Husband, finding that Wife had waited too long to ask for the agreement to be set aside. State law required her to make the request within six months from the time the court granted the divorce and incorporated the agreement, according to the judge. To the extent she was alleging fraud, the court said she had one year from the time she discovered the fraud. The court also noted that Husband and Wife used a third-party mediator to help them reach the agreement and that they met with the mediator on at least two occasions. The family judge explained that the “use of a mediator, multiple meetings, terms that include her receiving indefinite spousal support and child support, her receipt of a substantial equalization payment, and notarization of her signature, all undercut her claim that she was forced to sign a one-sided agreement.”
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District said Wife’s claims were not timely. “The court found that despite any difficulties [Wife] may have understanding English or the agreement she signed, she was aware she was signing a binding legal document, thus triggering the one-year limitations period, which expired well before [Wife] filed her motion,” the Court said. “[Wife] does not address or refute that finding.”
If you’re considering a divorce in California, it is crucial that you seek the advice of an experienced family lawyer before you sign anything. With more than 30 years of experience, San Jose divorce attorney John S. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve a wide variety of marital disputes. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
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