Q&A: Can I change my mind after I sign the stipulation of settlement?

Can I change my mind after I sign the stipulation of settlement?

That’s a good and serious question. Most New York divorce lawyers would agree that in a contested divorce the law allows parties to forego trial if they can agree to agree and stipulate to a settlement. The assumption is that in such a situation where parties enter into a stipulation of settlement, that they are represented by counsel (or they have competently represented themselves) and they have conducted their due diligence, they know the extent of the marital assets, debts, etc. They agree to custody and visitation issues and they freely and knowingly enter into an agreement to part ways on certain terms.

So lets, say hypothetically that you were of the opinion that the only asset of the marriage was a $500,000 house in East New York. There has been no actual appraisal of the house, you just believe its worth somewhere in the region of $500,000. YOur spouse agrees to buy you out and you think you are getting a damn good deal when he offers to pay you $150,000 of the $200,000 in equity in the home. Further, you know your spouse has a stock account with Merrill Lynch but you don’t think there’s much money in it and frankly you don’t bother to confirm this.

Two months after the divorce, and the signing of the settlement agreement, your spouse turns around and sells the house for $1 million dollars. The $700,000 windfall is all his because you had signed a stipulation of agreement that all you wanted was $150,000 in equity.

Can you do anything about it? It appears not. Once you sign on the dotted line of a stipulation it seems the law right now is that you are a stuck goose. The lesson? Make sure you really know the extent of the assets in your marriage. Don’t go for ball park figures. Get actual numbers so that you can make an informed decision. Otherwise you can really jip yourself and enrich your spouse and it is not that easy to just back out.