After your divorce is finalized, you may decide that the terms do not work for you , or maybe you are just happy with the terms of your divorce and now want to try to get them changed. There are processes for changing the terms of custody, child-support, or spousal support agreements, but not for changing the terms of a property settlement agreement. Pursuant to State statutes and most case law, property orders entered at the time of divorce are final and cannot thereafter be modified, even by agreement.
Nonetheless, many former spouses chose for one reason or another to modify property terms or distributions. Sometimes they are fixing mistakes not apparent beforehand or to the judge that they mutually agree on. Sometimes circumstances have changed and changing the orders is more convenient for the parties. Most of the times (my guess) they do it on their own without going back to the court. Sometimes, they execute an agreement and go back to the court to have it entered on the record. It is up to the court to accept the agreement and sometimes they are accepted. This does not mean they are enforceable.
Whether the parties go back to the court or not, if they make the changes they want to make and no one ever complains then there will likely not be any issues. The problems arise when the parties make the changes and then one of them cries foul, usually years later. That party wants to revert back to the original court order but by that time it is either very unfair or impossible for the other party to do based on a changed position. So what controls? The original divorce orders or the (improper) modification? Appellate courts are split on the issue of whether the judge has the authority to accept these changes. The Connecticut Supreme Court has indicated – but not specifically stated – that the judges do have the authority. Additionally, parties have always been encouraged by the courts to settle disputes on their own.
Parties need to be very careful when changing property orders because no attorney can guarantee that the agreement will be enforceable. This could lead to very undesirable effects. It is probably best to put the agreement in writing and try to get it ordered by the court if you are going to do it. This at least ensures the most protection from the other party changing their mind in the future. As always, it’s best to consult with a divorce attorney to make the most informed decisions as possible.
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