Marital settlement agreements can be useful in many divorce cases because they allow divorcing spouses to decide for themselves how some or all of the issues will be resolved, instead of leaving them for a judge. As a recent case out of California’s Third District Court of Appeals makes clear, however, it is important to make sure that you have all of the information you need in front of you before you sign an agreement. That’s because they’re tough to undo.
Husband and Wife separated in 2009, following some 26 years of marriage in which the couple had at least one child. Husband went to medical school during the marriage and later became a doctor. Wife was in school pursuing a master’s degree in education at the time of the split. The couple eventually entered into a marital settlement agreement – approved by a court in 2011 – in which Husband pledged to pay Wife $3,750 per month in spousal support. The agreement said Wife’s goal was to become self-supporting and provided that the support payment could potentially be modified starting in 2012.
Wife went back to court in 2012, asking a judge to set aside the 2011 judgment incorporating the settlement agreement. She alleged that Husband had concealed payments to a retirement account during the negotiations leading up to the agreement. The trial court found no evidence to support that claim. It also said Wife was too late. State law required her to seek the set aside within one year from the date on which she knew or should have known about Husband’s alleged fraud. In this case, Wife asked for the set aside nearly a year after the judgement was entered and more than a year after the couple reached the agreement.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Third District agreed that Wife’s motion to set aside the agreement wasn’t timely. Wife said she received Husband’s tax return showing the retirement contributions in June 2011, but she didn’t start questioning whether he misled her until contacting an attorney in October of the same year. The trial court, however, noted that Wife was represented by a lawyer at the time she received the tax return and was working with a forensic accountant. Citing the “wealth of information” available at that time, the Court said Wife should have been aware of any questions about the retirement accounts at the time she received the tax return. Since she filed her motion to set aside the judgment more than a year after receiving the documents, the Court said she was out of luck.
In a separate proceeding, the trial court also granted Husband’s request to reduce Wife’s monthly spousal support by $500 per month.
As this case makes clear, there are strict time deadlines that can make or break a divorce or related case. If you’re considering a divorce or are grappling with spousal support and other issues in California, contact San Jose divorce attorney John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. 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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