New York Court Discusses Enforceability of Separation Agreements

Many New Yorkers who are unsure about the status of their marriage separate before ultimately making the decision to divorce. In such instances, it is not uncommon for them to enter into a separation agreement that defines their rights and obligations. Many separation agreements are eventually incorporated into divorce decrees as well. As discussed in a recent New York ruling, it is important for anyone considering entering into a separation agreement to understand that it is a legally binding document that, in most instances, will be enforced by the courts. If you want to learn more about your options with regard to ending your marriage, you should speak to a New York divorce lawyer promptly.

Case Setting

It is alleged that the parties divorced; the trial court incorporated by reference the parties’ separation agreement into their final judgment of divorce.  The wife subsequently filed a motion seeking a money judgment for unpaid maintenance arrears totaling $70,857. The husband filed a cross-motion to reform or vacate certain provisions of the separation agreement. The court denied both motions but granted the wife’s request for counsel fees. Both parties appealed.

Enforceability of Separation Agreements

On appeal, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision regarding the enforceability of the maintenance provisions in the separation agreement. The court found that Domestic Relations Law § 236B(3) governed the case since the parties sought resolution through agreement rather than judicial intervention. The separation agreement, which was in writing, subscribed by the parties, and acknowledged appropriately, was deemed valid and enforceable. The court rejected the husband’s argument that a different section of the Domestic Relations Law applied due to his lack of legal representation during the proceedings, as the parties had a valid separation agreement.

Additionally, the court rejected the husband’s claim that the agreement was unconscionable, noting that he chose not to retain counsel despite being advised to do so, and there was no evidence of overreaching in the agreement’s drafting. The court found that the terms, which required the husband to pay the wife 50% of his net after-tax income for ten years, were considered fair given the lengthy marriage and the wife’s limited paid work. The court also denied the husband’s request for recoupment of maintenance overpayments, noting he failed to provide the required documentation.

However, the court determined that the income execution obtained by the wife did not foreclose a money judgment on maintenance arrears and, therefore, remanded the case for the entry of a money judgment representing the outstanding arrears. The court also affirmed the grant of counsel fees to the wife, as it considered her the prevailing party in the enforcement action.

Meet with a Seasoned New York Attorney

People have the right to enter into separation agreements without the assistance of counsel in divorce actions, but is it not prudent to do so, as they may inadvertently waive important rights. If you wish to seek a divorce, it is in your best interest to meet with an attorney to discuss your options as soon as possible. Ksenia Rudyuk is a seasoned New York divorce lawyer with the skills and resources needed to help you seek a just outcome. You can reach Ms. Rudyuk via the form online or at 212-706-2001 to set up a conference.

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