There seems to be no end to the methods that spouses come up with in order to manipulate a divorce to their advantage. These tactics often take place outside the courtroom, and the ones who suffer are the well- meaning individuals who want to make the process as private and efficient as possible. Agreements will typically be worked out in mediation or in collaboration with the attorneys, and a draft of the Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) will be presented for a final review. That's precisely when one of the parties reneges, and does it again and again, denying that they agreed to certain terms, or asking for terms that are flat out unreasonable.
Those stuck in this maddening cycle feel as if they're hostages in a marriage that has clearly run its course. There is, however, a legal option that could help you move toward the finish line. If one party reneges after an agreement has been reached on all the major issues (custody, support, property division), the other party can file what is known as a Harrington motion. While the courts tend to give divorce litigants the benefit of the doubt more often than not, they are cognizant of the fact that some spouses knowingly and intentionally act in bad faith.
So, how do the courts decide whether a spouse is reneging out of spite? This is somewhat left up to the judge's discretion, but what the courts scrutinize is the defendant's actions pertaining to the reneging. It's essential to note that the agreement does not need to contain explicit language stating that neither party can change their minds. This puts a lot less pressure on the plaintiff, though he or she must be able to show the other side's repeated changes of heart, whether it be before, during, or after the proposed draft. In some cases, plaintiffs are able to show all three levels of reneging, which is a telling sign to a judge that the other side may be playing dirty. In short, what matters here is the outward manifestation of intent towards the plaintiff, which can be inferred largely from the defendant saying that they're satisfied with the agreement, then changing their mind.
Of course, the appearance of bad faith alone isn't enough to enforce a written agreement. The hearing gives the other side a chance to explain why they reneged, which could be due to a legitimate misunderstanding or change of circumstance. The first possibility isn't too likely if both sides had competent counsel, which is why it's extremely important to work with an experienced attorney. A change of circumstance is a better possibility, though the burden to prove such circumstance would be on the defendant. As you can see, there is hope for those who wish to finalize their divorce with as little court intervention as possible. If you're struggling with a spouse who is intentionally disrupting the divorce process, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.
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