Divorce is common in today’s society, with half of all marriages ending in divorce. Divorce agreements are a pivotal step in the divorce process. They separate property, determine child custody and child support, among other things.
Usually, people hire divorce attorneys to write the agreements and go back and forth until both parties are satisfied. Then the agreement is signed by both parties and the agreement is sent to the judge. After the judge signs the agreement, it becomes an official divorce decree. However, once the divorce decree is signed, what is the statute of limitations on divorce agreements? This largely depends on what state you live in.
Division of Assets is the Most Important Factor in Reopening a Case
A court will rarely reopen a case after the divorce decree has been finalized. However, if a spouse has been found to be hiding assets, a judge may reopen the case, but it must be filed soon after the divorce. The judge will then take a look at the case and determine if fraud was committed. Should he or she rule that it was, the agreement can then be altered.
Splitting Assets Equally vs. Splitting Assets Equitably
Marital property is split during the divorce. Depending on the state the couple lives in, it may either be split equally or equitably. In Arizona, division of assets is split equitably.
When it is split equitably, it is split in a manner that is just, but not necessarily equal. So someone may get more than the other party, but in a way that is ruled to be fair. Splitting the property equally means both parties get half of the property and any other assets.
Fraud in Divorce Cases
Once the property has been split, this part of the case is finalized and therefore rarely reopened. There is a means to reopen this portion, however, if it is proven that one of the parties has committed fraud or another form of misconduct.
For instance, one party hid assets during the proceedings, then the case may be reopened to substitute a new agreement for the old one. The statute of limitations on divorce agreements varies from state to state. In Massachusetts, it’s one year after judgment. In Colorado, it’s five. In Wisconsin, it’s five years after the discovery of the fraud. And in Arizona, it’s five years from the date of entry.
In order to prove fraud, you must show that a person made a false statement knowingly. You have to prove that the party who committed fraud did so intentionally and willingly, and meant to cause harm. If a person has done this, then the case may be reopened by the judge and the divorce agreement can be altered.
There is also case law that states that if a party has a certain amount of time to do something (such as sell property), then they must do so. The statute of limitations on divorce agreements states that that date is the date by which it must be done or that party can be held in contempt. The other party must be compensated for their portion of the sale within a reasonable amount of time.
However, if there is no date by which something must be done, it is a continuing timetable and does not have a statute of limitations. In this case, the court will not interfere.
Some states also have a separate statute of limitations which deals with the collection of child support. If fraud has been found surrounding the child support matter, then the harmed party may file a motion to alter child support. This must be done according to each states’ statute of limitations.
Keep a Copy of Your Divorce Decree
Always keep a copy of your divorce decree with your other important paperwork. Go over it periodically to ensure that everything you have agreed to is being done. If you find that your ex-spouse is not complying, or you find out that he or she has lied about something, immediately go to your attorney. He or she will be able to tell you if your case has gone over the statute of limitations for reopening your case.
Never try to go at it alone. A skilled attorney will be able to write up a motion and present your case to the judge. Since every state is different, your attorney will know what the laws in your state about statute of limitations are.
Make Sure Everything is Covered Before the Divorce is Finalized
When entering into a divorce agreement, make sure you get everything you want written and you are satisfied with what you are getting. Agreements can be changed before they’re signed, but it’s difficult to reopen a case once the divorce decree is finalized by a judge. If, after you have a finalized divorce decree, you have found that your spouse committed fraud, or lied in any way, then go to your attorney. The divorce agreement may be changed if a judge rules that your spouse was not honest during negotiations. A new agreement will then be entered.
Remember, divorce agreements are negotiations to begin with. Because statute of limitations exists, make sure that everything you need is written into your agreement. Once the papers are signed, they become a legal contract. This contract is enforced by the law.
Should your spouse not follow the agreement, take your case to your attorney so that it may be brought before a judge. The court is on your side when it comes to divorce agreements. As long as there is a date by which things must be done, your spouse must follow the agreement. If, however, there is no date, the statute of limitations does not apply.
Divorce is difficult enough without having to take your agreement back to court. Try to get everything hashed out before the final divorce decree. After the decree is entered, reopening the case will only happen under extraordinary measures.
If you can prove fraud and the statute of limitations hasn’t run out, you have a good chance of getting the agreement altered. If, however, the statute of limitations has run out, then you are out of luck. So be sure that everything is in order before you sign and before the judge signs. It will save you a lot of hassle.
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.