Reopening a Divorce Settlement in California

Many people end their divorce case feeling like the orders made by the court are fair. But what do you do if you feel like you were cheated out of a fair settlement?

Even though it may not be common, there are circumstances under which a divorce settlement can be reopened. State law allows for a settlement to be reopened when a party engages in misrepresentations or fraud, or in other limited circumstances. While it may be difficult, an experienced divorce lawyer may be able to help you get your divorce settlement reopened.

Exceptional and Compelling Circumstances

In order to reopen or set aside a divorce settlement, you will need to show the court that exceptional and compelling circumstances exist.1 Typically, this requires showing that the settlement was obtained through fraud or when one party made material misrepresentations.

If one spouse hid or undervalued assets, for instance, then the court may reopen the settlement. This is usually the strongest type of case for reopening a divorce settlement.2 In California, parties are required to disclose all assets and debts in a divorce, and a failure to disclose assets could be grounds for the divorce settlement to be voided.3

However, it should be noted that merely suspecting that fraud has taken place will not allow you to reopen the settlement.4 Hard evidence will need to be provided to the court that one party committed fraud and that reopening the settlement will be fair and reasonable.

There may also be grounds for reopening a divorce settlement if you were coerced into accepting the settlement through threats of violence. While there is typically some amount of pressure to accept a settlement in a divorce, threats made to you or your children rise to the level of duress and could invalidate the settlement.

Time Limits on Reopening a Divorce Settlement

While you may have grounds for reopening a settlement, there are restrictions on how long you can wait to bring the information to the court’s attention. Issues of fraud or misrepresentation typically have to be brought within one year of the discovery of the fraud, and issues of duress must be brought within two years of the entry of the divorce judgment.5

With that in mind, it should be clear that the best way to avoid having to reopen a settlement is to have an attorney fighting to help you receive a fair settlement in the first place.

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