It is generally understood that it is better to settle your divorce case than take it to trial. When you settle your case, either on your own or through the process of mediation, you are taking matters into your own hands. Through negotiation or mediation, you can decide what you and your (soon-to-be-ex) spouse will live by and be bound by instead of leaving those decisions up to a judge.
How Do Family Law Cases Settle?
Divorce cases can resolve when parties to the divorce agree to a marital settlement agreement or by going to mediation. The good news is that if you and your spouse can agree to all terms and you sign an agreement, or if your case does settle at mediation, your case will be over and done, and you can move on with your life post-divorce.
Changing Your Mind After Settling
Imagine that your attorney has helped you draft and agree with your spouse to a marital settlement agreement. Or, you go to mediation and come to some resolution of the issues in your divorce.
But then there is a problem: Shortly after the mediation, or after you have agreed to some kind of divorce settlement, you change your mind about what was agreed to in the settlement agreement.
As a general rule, it is never a good idea to change your mind after terms have been agreed to at mediation or independently. You should always give careful thought about what you agree to, and understand that at mediation or during negotiations, it is totally your choice to settle. You do not have to settle at all, or you can settle some, but not all of the issues in your case.
You should never agree to anything in mediation that you are not comfortable with, do not understand, or cannot abide by. Never agree to something you do not want to.
Why People Change Their Mind
That said, it does happen that problems arise after an agreement is reached between the parties to a divorce.
Sometimes, after you have agreed on the terms of your divorce at mediation or through negotiation, new information may make you change your mind about what you have agreed upon. Perhaps at mediation, facts, finances, or other information was not all known to you or was different than what you anticipated.
Other times, you may simply get “cold feet,” or after some reflective time, you may realize that you are not comfortable with what you agreed to. Remember that this is normal and is not, by itself, a reason to overturn a mediation agreement or marital settlement agreement. If you do have doubts or regrets about what you agreed to, the first step should be to speak with your family law lawyer. They can talk through the situation with you and help you realize that your settlement agreement is a good thing that works in your favor.
Can You Change Your Mind?
If you still cannot abide by or agree to the terms of the mediation or your settlement agreement, the next question is whether the mediation agreement can be overturned. This largely depends on whether all the terms and conditions of the agreement were included and whether they were agreed to and signed by the parties.
As a general rule, you cannot overturn anything you previously agreed to, or change your mind after you have signed a marital settlement agreement. Your marital settlement agreement, whether signed at mediation or independently through negotiation between the parties, is a legal, valid, and binding contract that both sides must follow.
However, there are some exceptions that may allow you some room to argue that you should not be bound by the agreement that you signed. These must be brought to the court’s attention before it approves the settlement agreement.
One exception is whether what was agreed to at your family law mediation was formalized in an agreement. The more formal the agreement is, the less likely it will be that you will be able to change your mind after the mediation.
Often, when the parties agree to the terms of a divorce in mediation, the mediator may have both sides sign an agreement. The agreement may be a complete statement of all the terms and conditions of the entire divorce, or it may be a rough outline, with the intention that the parties will draft a more formal, comprehensive agreement later on. In some cases, only general “bullet points” are agreed to.
Where the parties only have general agreements, agreements “in principle,” verbal agreements, “agreements to agree” later on, or just rough ideas of what they will formalize later, it is a lot easier for you to change your mind after you have agreed on the terms of the divorce.
However, again, when the terms and conditions of mediation have been completely and totally formalized in a comprehensive signed agreement at the mediation, it will be much more difficult for you to change your mind, as the agreement will be seen as a complete binding contractual agreement.
Some of your ability to change your mind after agreeing to the terms of your divorce also depend on why you are changing your mind.
For example, if you find that the other side was hiding information, lied about key details, or misled the parties at mediation, or during the course of the parties’ negotiations, that may give you some ground to argue that the agreement should not be enforced or formalized (signed) by the judge, or enforced against the parties.
However, if you just have “cold feet” and regret agreeing to what you agreed to, it is more likely that the court will not allow you to back out of the terms that you agreed to at the mediation.
Remember that you are only bound to the terms and conditions that you agreed to. In some cases, you may have only a partial agreement.
So, for example, imagine that you agree on a child custody, timesharing, or visitation schedule, but not on child support. You would be bound to the timesharing schedule agreed to, but only to that–not to any other matter, such as child support, which was never agreed to in the partial divorce agreement.
Object Before Court Approval
After you come to an agreement in mediation or on your own through negotiations, the contract (the settlement agreement) will be sent to the judge for signature. This is generally a formality, but it is your last official chance to try to provide reasons why you should not be bound by the mediation agreement and to explain why you want to overturn the terms of the agreement.
As stated above, this is very hard to do. Remember that everything said in mediation or during settlement discussions is confidential, so you will have limited room to explain to the judge what the other side may have said or done during the mediation to support your argument that the mediation agreement should not be enforced.
However, if you do have a valid basis, if you do not raise it here, it will be too late; once the judge signs the mediation or marital settlement agreement that contains all the terms and conditions of the divorce, you are bound by the terms of that agreement.
An attorney at the Law Firm of Anthony J. Diaz can help you negotiate a peaceful resolution to your divorce agreement and explain the process to you. Contact us to better understand mediation, settlement, and to answer any questions you may have.