For many individuals, they can find themselves facing a divorce or family law matter. Their spouse (or the other party to the family law case) has an attorney. They indicate that their attorney is simply going to draw up the paperwork to conclude the case quick.
When faced with this, many decide not to get a lawyer. Their mindset is that although the settlement paperwork is flawed in many respects, they can simply go back and fix it later.
In other words, the view of some is that they should simply agree to the settlement that is being proposed. That will make the divorce end (if the matter is a divorce). If it’s another type of family law case, like a paternity case, they think that by settling quickly, they will get the case done.
After the case is done, many think they will just come back later and fix what was wrong with the original settlement. For example, if there are children, and a prior child custody order, they figure that they will just modify custody later.
If there is a child support or spousal support order, the view of some is that even if the support is too much, or even too later, they will simply come back at a later date. The view is let’s get the original divorce or family law matter done first. Whatever is wrong with the settlement, they think they will just fix it later.
This view is based on an incremental view that you can simply bite off certain parts of the case (like getting divorced) and then later deal with the other issues at some point in the future. Often, this approach is based on a theory that they are saving attorney fees or keeping things civil with their ex-spouse (or the other party).
The problem with this approach is that modifying a prior court order is not simple or easy. In fact, it can be harder to fix something that was not right to begin with than to simply make sure it was right from the start.
This is because to modify a prior court order as to custody or support, a party typically has to show a change of circumstances of a substantial and continuing basis. In other words, one cannot come back to court with the incremental argument that they agreed to what they originally agreed to just to get the case done, but that it was not really right from the start and, as a result, the court should modify it now.
In most courts, this argument will not work. A party has to show that something is now different. They have to show that the difference is something significant and continuing. For many parties, this can be a tough standard to meet in court.
This means that many parties who simply agree to a bad deal to get it done end up facing two problematic situations.
- One, it might be that they end up being stuck with it. In other words, they are never able to fix the bad parts of the original judgment or order.
- Two, even if a party is successful in obtaining a modification, many spend a lot more money in the long run on attorney’s fees trying to obtain a modification than if they simply had it done right from the start.
- Three, in terms of property and debt division in a divorce, this is almost always non-modifiable (meaning the you cannot come back to court later to change the original settlement).
This is why parties who have a mindset that they are going to fix the bad parts of their divorce or family law settlement later are often incorrect. It is almost always vital to make sure everything is fair from the start.