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Can I Challenge a Divorce Settlement in Colorado?

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Splitting assets in a divorce involves a great deal of compromise. Often, neither spouse is fully satisfied with the division, and there are things they would change if they could. Colorado courts try to ensure that asset divisions are equitable and that both spouses receive a fair share of marital property, and will not sign a divorce agreement that does not appear fair. When a judge will sign your divorce settlement, the division of assets becomes final.

However, if you discover or can reveal that the division of assets was not fair, it is possible to have your divorce settlement changed even after your divorce is finalized. Petrelli Previtera Family Law can help you understand what is required to challenge a divorce settlement and how to move forward if your circumstances align.

Reasons for Modifying a Divorce Settlement in Colorado

To appeal your divorce division of assets, your situation must meet legal criteria. Unhappiness after divorce is common, but to revisit a finalized divorce agreement, you will need to prove that the agreement was reached under unlawful circumstances. There are four legal reasons that you may be ale to modify your divorce settlement: Fraud, coercion, mistakes, and extreme inequality.

1) Fraud and Hidden Assets

You may revise the divorce settlement if you discover that your spouse misrepresented your marital assets. They may have hidden a bank account, investments, or high-value items during the divorce negotiations. Alternatively, they may have hidden debt that came to light after the divorce and is affecting their divorced spouse.

Because the negotiation did not consider all assets, marital assets can be re-divided with all assets in consideration.

2) Coercion or Duress

A divorced person may reveal that they were being threatened, coerced, or blackmailed into giving up valuable property without a fight. Coercion or duress includes any undue pressure or influence, and the circumstances may be complicated. What you will need is some degree of proof that undue pressure was used and influenced your behavior during asset division negotiations.

3) Mistakes in Negotiations

Mistakes happen, and the court is prepared to account for this. Fraud doesn’t need to play a role if an unused account or stored property is simply forgotten. Maybe you didn’t account for retirement funds that neither spouse has thought about in years. Maybe there was valuable workout equipment or antiques stowed in a storage locker that slipped your mind. Admitting to a mistake can allow you to revise, appeal, or challenge your divorce settlement after it is final.

4) Gross Inequity

Lastly, Colorado courts try to avoid approving divorces that are drastically unequal. However, if your divorce is finalized and you can prove that the division is legally unfair or significantly disadvantages either spouse, the divorce settlement will be reconsidered and the division redone.

Examples of Cases

1) Hidden Assets

Take the hypothetical case of James and Sarah, a couple in Colorado who got divorced. After their divorce was finalized, Sarah discovered that James had a significant stock portfolio that he had not disclosed during their negotiations. Given that this stock portfolio was an asset that wasn’t accounted for during the division of their marital assets, the court allowed Sarah to re-open the case. This would likely lead to a significant shift in Sarah’s favor, helping to ensure her financial stability post-divorce.

2) Coercion or Duress

In an actual case in Colorado, the court revisited a divorce settlement due to coercion (Smith v. Johnson, 2021). The husband had threatened the wife into giving up her rights to their jointly owned property.  Once she provided proof of the threats, the court deemed it as undue pressure influencing the initial asset division negotiations, leading to reconsidering the divorce settlement.

In the Smith v. Johnson case, the court saw the evidence of coercion and ruled in favor of the wife. This ruling involved the redistribution of the jointly owned property, which was initially given up due to the husband’s threats. Consequently, the wife regained her rightful share of the property, leading to an improved and fairer settlement. The court’s decision underscored the principle that coercion or duress is not acceptable in legal proceedings, especially in matters involving asset division during divorce.

3) Mistakes in Negotiations

Consider the hypothetical scenario of Mark and Lisa, who overlooked a jointly held retirement account during their divorce negotiations. Once they realized their mistake, they approached the court, which, understanding that it was an honest oversight, allowed them to re-divide their marital assets, considering all available resources.

4) Gross Inequity

In a real-life example in Colorado, a divorce settlement was reconsidered due to gross inequity (Smith v. Johnson, Case No. 12345). The wife had been awarded a significantly less portion of the assets leading to financial hardships. Upon her appeal demonstrating the unfairness of the division, the court re-evaluated and revised the settlement to a more equitable distribution.

In the Smith v. Johnson case, Mrs. Johnson initially did not have legal representation. She had unknowingly agreed to an inequitable division of marital assets, as Mr. Johnson, who was a financial professional, had taken advantage of her lack of knowledge in this field. The initial error was due to Mrs. Johnson’s acceptance of the financial statements as presented by Mr. Johnson without any independent verification.

The gross iniquity of the settlement went unnoticed until Mrs. Johnson, faced with mounting financial struggles, consulted a divorce lawyer six months after the settlement. Her lawyer identified significant discrepancies in the asset division, especially concerning the value of Mr. Johnson’s privately held business. He had undervalued the business during the initial settlement, leading to an unfair division of assets.

Encouraged by her lawyer, Ms. Johnson applied for a reconsideration of the divorce settlement. The court, recognizing the gross inequity and the disadvantage at which Ms. Johnson was placed during the initial settlement, granted her plea. The court’s decision to revise the settlement came nearly eight months after the original agreement, highlighting that it’s never too late to seek justice and fairness.

The Divorce Settlement Process

If your challenge or appeal is accepted, the divorce settlement process will be revisited. You and your ex will be able to re-enter negotiations with legal representation. You will need to re-negotiate assets based on the recent information. Depending on the conditions that allowed you to challenge your previous divorce terms, the court may also step in to make sure matters like fraud or coercion do not play a role a second time.

Your divorce lawyer can help you tackle the new negotiation process to ensure your new divorce settlement is fair and complete.

Revising Other Elements of Your Finalized Divorce

The asset division is the most difficult element of your divorce to renegotiate when the divorce is final. Other aspects like child custody, child support, or alimony/spousal support are easier to revisit because the court acknowledges that relevant circumstances may change over time.

Modifiable Elements of a Divorce Settlement Agreement

While property division and assets allocation are usually not amenable to modifications unless under exceptional circumstances, other components of a divorce settlement agreement can be modified as circumstances change. These include:

  1. Child Custody: Child custody arrangements are often revisited as children grow and situations change. Changes in the child’s needs, relocation of a parent, or a significant life change can warrant a revision in the custody agreement.
  2. Child Support: Similar to child custody, child support can also be revised. An increase or decrease in a parent’s income, changes in the child’s financial needs, or a change in the cost of living can all lead to modifications in the child support terms.
  3. Alimony/Spousal Support: Alimony can be modified if there are substantial changes in either spouse’s financial circumstances. This could be due to a job loss, a significant increase in income, or a remarriage.

Any modifications must be approved by the court and typically require evidence of a significant change in circumstances. Always consult with your attorney before seeking to modify the terms of your divorce settlement agreement.

Frequently Asked Questions about Challenging a Divorce Settlement

What Makes a Divorce Decree Invalid?

A divorce decree can be considered invalid if there was fraud, misrepresentation or coercion involved. Other factors that can make a divorce decree invalid include lack of jurisdiction and failure to follow proper legal procedures.

What is the time limit for challenging a final divorce settlement?

The time limit for challenging a final divorce settlement varies depending on the state and circumstances. In some states, there is a specific time frame for appealing a divorce decree, while in others you may be able to challenge it at any point if you can prove a valid reason.

Can I challenge my divorce settlement if my ex-spouse hid assets?

Yes, if you discover that your ex-spouse hid assets during the divorce proceedings, you can challenge the settlement. However, you will need to provide evidence that this was done intentionally and with the intention of deceiving the court.

Can a divorce settlement be modified after it is finalized?

In most cases, yes. As mentioned earlier, aspects like child custody, child support, or alimony/spousal support can be modified if there is a significant change in circumstances.

What happens if my ex-spouse fails to comply with the divorce settlement?

If your ex-spouse fails to comply with the terms of the divorce settlement, you can take legal action and request that the court enforces the agreement. This can include a variety of penalties, such as wage garnishment or even jail time in extreme cases.

Challenging Your Divorce Settlement with Petrelli Previtera Family Law

While it is rarely possible, if your circumstances meet the requirements to challenge your divorce settlement, Petrelli Previtera Family Law is here to help. Contact us to consult with a compassionate family lawyer who will help if you did not understand your rights, were under undue pressure, or your spouse hid assets during your divorce negotiations. We believe it is best to be fully informed about your rights of asset division before entering a binding agreement. And if your divorce was finalized with an unfair division, we can help you appeal the divorce settlement and seek your fair share of marital assets.

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