Court Discusses Modifying a Settlement Agreement in a New York Divorce Action

Most divorces in New York are resolved through a settlement agreement.  Written Settlement Agreements set forth the terms of the parties’ division of property and support obligations. Generally, the courts will incorporate such settlement agreements into the final divorce decree and enforce them as they would other contracts. This means, as discussed in a recent New York ruling, that any modifications of such agreements must be in writing. If you intend to seek a divorce, it is smart to meet with a New York divorce attorney to assess your options.

Case Background

It is reported that the parties were married in 1998 and divorced in 2013, with a judgment that incorporated a separation agreement. The judgment stipulated maintenance payments of $400 per month while the wife resided in the marital residence or until its sale, and $900 per month afterward. The separation agreement allowed both parties to continue living in the marital residence and listed it for sale in 2013. The agreement specified that it could only be modified in writing with formal signatures. The husband moved out in March 2013, no maintenance was paid, and the residence was not sold.

Allegedly, in 2019, the wife moved to hold the husband in contempt and sought maintenance arrears, sale of the residence, return of personal property, and counsel fees. The husband presented a written modification agreement dated February 2013 stating that maintenance would end when the wife resided with another person. The husband argued this agreement modified the maintenance terms to allow postponement until their child’s graduation. The trial found the modification valid and enforceable, awarding counsel fees to the husband, and denied the wife’s claims. The wife appealed.

Modifying a Settlement Agreement in a New York Divorce Action

On appeal, the court reversed the trial court ruling. It noted irregularities in the modification agreement, including inconsistent dates on the signatures and the lack of acknowledgment. The court determined that these irregularities raised doubts about the authenticity of the agreement, making it inappropriate to resolve the matter without a hearing.

Furthermore, the appellate court found that even if the modification agreement was enforceable, it did not entirely eliminate the husband’s maintenance obligation but only suspended it upon the wife residing with someone else. Disputes existed over whether this condition was met and whether the husband owed maintenance for the period before the wife’s departure.

The court also held that the husband failed to prove, as a matter of law, that the wife had waived all maintenance payments through her conduct. Therefore, the court held that the wife’s request for maintenance arrears should not have been denied without a hearing.

Talk to a Dedicated New York Attorney

Parties in divorce actions will develop the terms of their settlement agreement without court intervention, but it is important for them to understand the long-term consequences of doing so. If you want to learn more about the implications of divorce, it is in your best interest to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. Ksenia Rudyuk is a dedicated New York divorce attorney with ample experience helping people obtain favorable outcomes in dissolution proceedings, and if you hire her, she will advocate aggressively on your behalf. You can contact Ms. Rudyuk via the form online or at 212-706-2001 to set up a meeting.

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