“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” Mary Shelley was only 21 when her novel, Frankenstein, was published. Her masterwork included that telling sentence. Of course, the change she was talking about was, er, um, the construction of a human from cadaver bits, but it could just as well have been the change of divorce. Perhaps you were not thinking clearly when you signed your separation agreement. The changes your divorce and property settlement agreement bring to your life could be so painful, you wish you could make more changes.
Property Settlement & Separation Agreements
Virginia has property settlement agreements written into law, but for all intents and purposes they are synonymous with separation agreements. A property settlement agreement can address just about every issue, such as:
- Property division, including real estate, vehicles, valuables, and everyday items
- Spousal support
- Child custody
- Child support
- Child visitation schedules
- Means and frequency of communication
So whether your Virginia attorney calls it a separation agreement or the more accepted property settlement agreement, you are talking about a legally binding contract signed by both you and your ex-wife, to be followed diligently on pain of being found in contempt of court.
Is Your Separation Agreement Invalid?
Not invalid, as in a person lying around the house, moaning softly due to some ailment. Invalid, as in not valid. It is one of the few ways to vacate a separation agreement; have your Virginia divorce attorney give it the ol’ once-over to see if it could possibly be set aside as invalid. Your attorney will be looking for these four issues:
- A mistake — Any error that affects material distribution of property, future security and safety of the children, or makes the agreement incomprehensible could be reason to invalidate it
- Coercion or undue influence — You and your ex-wife have to agree to the terms without fear of reprisal from the other party; you cannot threaten her with grievous bodily harm if she refuses to sign, and she cannot threaten to drop a snake down your shorts if you do not sign
- Fraud — Concealing the true value of an asset, using deception to mislead the other spouse, or entering into the agreement knowing you have no intention of fulfilling your part could all be grounds to set aside the agreement based on fraud
- Unconscionable — You both signed, but she gets the house, the vehicles, the kids, the retirement fund, the bank accounts; you get the shiny pen you used to sign away all your assets
Will Your Wife Agree to Property Settlement Changes?
The other route to take is to meet with your wife and her attorney coolly, calmly, and with utmost respect. You can work together to recast the agreement to be more equitable to your changing needs.
She is under no obligation to do that, if the original separation agreement is valid. So you really have to play nice. Is is a weak position from which to bargain? You bet, but if you are needing the changes, you have few options.
What can you do? Appeal to her rational side. Appeal to her maternal side if you have children together. Negotiate. Be clear why you need to change (not want the change; need it, due to a material change in your own circumstances).
Put It In Writing
A handy way to give both sides a third option is to have your attorneys draft the original separation agreement to include a clause allowing for revisions. It could be something like this:
“If, owing to a substantial change in the financial circumstances of one or both of the parties, both parties agree to a modification of the agreement, one party shall petition the court for an order of modification. The other party shall not challenge the filing.”
You get fired; you let her know, and then your attorney files for a modification. She wins the lottery; she lets you know, and she files to end spousal support. A clause to allow modification is a very mature, very efficient way to not only stay in touch but to allow you both to live your lives without unnecessary drama.
Material Changes vs. Wishful Thinking
Simply changing your mind after the fact, or thinking you can shake up your wife and land a better deal, is not good enough. You need a material change in circumstance, not just wishful thinking. What is a material change? Anything that affects your financial security or financial future, not of your own making:
- Fired from a job
- Laid off from a job
- Work hours cut significantly
- Foreclosed upon
- Medical issue or accident
Going from 40 hours to 37 hours a week is likely not to trigger a new agreement. Choosing to stop working and volunteer at the library will not do it, either. Remember: a big financial change, not of your doing.
If everything is constantly changing anyway, why call 757-383-9184 to reach The Firm For Men? Because, by calling or contacting us online, we can make positive changes that work for you. Be assertive; be proactive; be one of the smart Virginia men who have chosen a strong family law firm for men to defend their rights.