I have recently seen a large number of people coming into our office after signing a Marital Settlement Agreement, Paternity Settlement Agreement, Parenting Plan or Mediated Settlement Agreement and asking how they can get out of the agreement.
The first question I ask is did they have an attorney review it prior to signing it? During most of these instances, the answer has been no. Many of these have been situations where they walked into the office of the attorney who represents the other spouse and/or parent and just sat down and signed an agreement they had never seen before. They didn’t take any time to think about or consider what the agreement would mean to them several years down the road or stop to consider potential downsides of what they were signing.
Some were just focused on one or two aspects of the agreement, but didn’t provide much review or consideration to the other parts of the contract. For example, one person was a little short on cash and their spouse offered to give them a large portion of cash if they signed a marital settlement agreement. Seeing the cash dangled in front of them they thought all their problems were solved and were eager to sign.
Once the emotion of the moment wears off and they actually sit down and re-read the signed agreement they sometimes realize that they don’t really understand what all of the components of the contract mean. This is where they end up in my office wanting us to “fix” the “unfair agreement.”
Challenges Setting Aside A Signed Contract
Having a signed agreement “set aside” in court is no small feat. Many of these documents are legally binding contracts and the law allows people to voluntarily enter into bad agreements; there is no law against you signing an “unfair” agreement! Courts routinely enforce written agreements without rewriting its terms.
“It’s not illegal to sign a bad agreement.”
If you have been mislead or are otherwise concerned, it is important to get to an attorney as soon as possible. To set aside or modify an agreement, the party requesting such action from the court must typically establish that the agreement was reached under fraud, deceit, duress, coercion, misrepresentation, or overreaching OR that the agreement makes an unfair or unreasonable provision given the parties circumstances. If unfairness is established, a presumption arises that there is concealment or lack of knowledge, usually in regard to finances.
What You Can Do
The best practice is to take any important agreements or contracts to an attorney prior to signing them. Make sure you are clear as to your legal rights and that you understand what you agreeing to. Most attorneys will happily review a settlement agreement with the appropriate financial and ancillary documents at an hourly rate or for a flat fee. Whatever the cost is to review the paperwork it will be worth the peace of mind you’ll get and will certainly be substantially less than trying to set aside or modify a “bad” agreement.
Finally, try not to make big decisions quickly especially when you are under pressure or you are agreeing to terms you have not previously thought about. In many cases waiting a few more hours or days often makes good sense.
Other resources on our website include more information about Orlando divorce, more details about our firm and our attorney’s, and helpful family law resource links to other websites. For specific questions or concerns or to set an appointment to speak about your situation in detail, please contact us.