How to Challenge an Unfair Divorce Settlement

Updated by , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco
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Very rarely (if ever) will divorcing spouses get everything they want in a divorce settlement. Instead, most divorces require compromise from both sides in order to resolve the case. As a result, many divorced spouses believe that they got a raw deal. This doesn't mean that they all have grounds to head back to court and set aside their divorce settlements.

However, if you received a truly unfair or unjust divorce settlement, you may be able to ask a court to reopen your case and take a second look at how the deal was made and whether or not it's unjust. You should know that you will have a very heavy burden in terms of getting a divorce settlement turned over. The exact legal showing you need to make will depend on the specific laws of your state, but generally speaking, the only way to have the court reopen your case is to show a judge that exceptional and compelling circumstances exist. This usually means that you have to prove that the settlement agreement itself is invalid for some reason and/or that the enforcement of the terms of the agreement would be oppressive, inequitable, and/or unjust.

How to Reopen Your Divorce Case

You will have to file a motion or petition (legal paperwork) with the court. An application to reopen your divorce case has to allege one of the following:

  • deceit or fraud (for example, your spouse concealed information or gave you false information about an essential fact, such as the existence or true value of an asset)
  • duress or undue influence (where one spouse used threats or coercion to force the other to accept and sign a settlement agreement)
  • mistaken negotiations (you were mistaken about a material fact that influenced the negotiation or agreement), or
  • a fundamental inequity or unfairness in the divorce agreement itself.

Duress and Undue Influence

Most spouses undergoing a divorce are under at least some sort of duress, meaning pressure to get the case settled. However, if one spouse used psychological pressure or threats of violence to force the other to accept an unfair divorce settlement, that is considered extreme duress and undue influence. Under these circumstances, it is possible to argue that consent was not valid because it was not free and voluntary and to have the divorce case reopened.

Getting Legal Help

Reopening a divorce case can be very challenging and legally complex. It's wise to consult with an experienced family law attorney in your area to determine whether you have a good case and how to get started.

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