Can a marital settlement agreement be changed?
There are several situations where a party may be dissatisfied with their Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA). One of the most common is when there has been a significant change in circumstances since the agreement was made, such as an increase or decrease in income. Another common cause for dissatisfaction is when one party feels the agreement was not fair or equitable when it was made. Various circumstances, along with many others, can give rise to disputes or the desire to modify agreements related to property division, alimony, child support, and custody.
The Finality of Property Division: Insights from Stein v. Stein
Dealing with all the issues that come with a divorce can be tough and time-consuming. Once the MSA is signed, however, it’s intended to be final. It’s a binding contract, and New Jersey courts usually hesitate to go against its terms unless there’s a strong reason to do so.
The 2019 case of Stein v. Stein illustrates the finality of property division in New Jersey marital settlement agreements (MSAs) and how unwilling courts are to overturn these agreements. This case focused on two aspects of an MSA: the defendant’s agreement to transfer $100,000 from his retirement account to the plaintiff’s retirement account and the agreement that the prevailing party in enforcing the MSA would receive attorney’s fees. In this case, after signing the MSA, the defendant argued that the retirement account should have been considered a premarital asset instead of a marital asset and should not have been included in the property division. The plaintiff disagreed and sought to enforce the MSA, ultimately winning the case and being awarded attorney’s fees. The Appellate Division, in upholding the MSA terms, emphasized that courts will maintain an MSA’s provisions if it is “voluntary, fair, and equitable.” This stance shows the court’s commitment to the original agreement terms, provided they are clear and mutually understood.
Room for Modification: Alimony, Support, and Custody
In contrast to property division, terms regarding alimony, child support, and custody can be more flexible. New Jersey courts recognize that life circumstances change, and these changes can lead to modifications of the original agreement. The case of Crews v. Crews highlights the court’s willingness to revisit financial support arrangements when significant changes in financial status occur.
Disputing a Settlement: The Role of Fraud and Contract Law Principles
When disputing an MSA in New Jersey, it’s crucial to understand contract law principles. An MSA can be invalidated if it’s proven that it was signed under circumstances like fraud or duress. Fraud may involve misleading information, like concealing significant assets. Duress, on the other hand, requires showing that one was forced to sign the agreement, which could include financial threats or other forms of pressure. However, proving duress is difficult, and normal financial pressures of a divorce usually aren’t enough. These principles are important when challenging the terms of an MSA in New Jersey.
Factors Leading to Disputes
Unclear language or misconceptions about New Jersey’s divorce laws, particularly no-fault divorce provisions, can lead to post-divorce disputes. Ensuring clarity in the agreement’s terms is crucial to minimize future conflicts.
Related Resources on New Jersey Property Division Laws
Our website provides extensive resources on New Jersey property division laws. These include detailed explanations of legal proceedings, the impact of these laws on court decisions, and answers to common questions about property division in divorces. Understanding these laws is vital for effectively navigating the court system and planning for post-divorce financial independence.
Disclaimer: Laws in New Jersey are subject to change, and consulting with a lawyer is recommended for the most current and applicable information.
Choosing the Right Legal Team in New Jersey
The divorce lawyers at Petrelli Previtera in New Jersey are work with clients in handling complex divorce matters, especially when it comes to dividing property and disputes over marriage settlement agreements. Our team is nationally recognized for providing personalized and effective legal representation. We are dedicated to understanding each client’s unique situation and providing the necessary support throughout their legal journey. Contact us for a consultation to discuss your case and start building a better future.