A basic tenet of “fight or flight” is that when people are in an extreme state of anxiety, they’ll do nearly anything to relieve that immediate pressure and discomfort to get themselves to a more bearable state. This describes what divorced people go through quite well. People crave resolution and a path forward. There’s this hope that when you finally enter an agreement, everyone will be able to breathe a sigh of relief.
I don’t relish being a party pooper, but I always remind clients, “It’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings!”
What does this mean in the context of divorce? It means that, if you have unemancipated children, you will likely be revisiting parts of your divorce agreement time and again as they grow older and unanticipated events occur, one of you wants to relocate, one of you loses a job and needs to modify child support and for a plethora of other reasons. Many divorced parents end up going back to court until their children are emancipated — and possibly afterwards if there are child support arrears.
Sometimes, the divorce agreement is just the beginning of the legal battles. Unfortunately, this can be true even for prescient, well thought out and meticulously drafted agreements, but obviously in the latter instances, there is less exposure, so having a really solid tight-knit initial agreement in place, which leaves room for less loopholes, is key, albeit not bulletproof.
Maintenance and spousal support are modifiable. Even if someone waives spousal support in their agreement, there is case law in which — 10 years after the agreement — one party was going to be a ward of the state and sued for maintenance. The judge ruled that maintenance had to be paid, which sounds perturbing and off-base, but the court will first look at the ex-spouse rather than let the other person be a ward of the state. Even if you try to waive support, or negotiate a certain amount, that is all modifiable. Notably, maintenance is harder to modify than child support, which has a much lower bar for modification, and includes the classic 3 bases: passage of 3 years; 15% increase or decrease in either party’s income; and a substantial change in circumstances.
The permissibility of modification for custody holds true as well. You can have one party awarded custody because the other party was a total disaster at the time of divorce. The parent unfit at the time of the divorce can always come back later and say, “I rehabilitated myself. I need to be the joint custodial parent now” and proceed to demonstrate substantial changes in circumstances since the initial agreement and judgment of divorce were signed off on to prove their point and elevate their custodial standing.
These requests to change custody agreements and modify child support and maintenance are very common and the post-judgment part in court is more backed up than the parts that handle the initial divorces.
The same occurs with challenges and attempts to overturn prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. People often state that their prenup or postnup was signed under duress or coercion, or perhaps they didn’t have an attorney look at it and didn’t understand what they were signing. It is critical that attorneys who represent clients in these agreements strategize and have the necessary foresight to prevent such an eventual catastrophe to their client.
Life circumstances change. People change their minds. Whatever reasons that they come up with, valid or invalid, people often want to get out of deals — and there’s nothing unusual about that.
To learn more about your specific circumstances, please contact us at email@example.com.
Cheryl Stein, Esq.
The Law and Mediation Offices of Cheryl Stein
745 Fifth Avenue, Suite 500
New York, NY 10151
Phone: (646) 884-2324