Be careful what you sign!

Posted on Sep 16, 2013 by Katie Carter

Divorce involves complicated issues of law because you and your husband will have to make permanent and binding decisions regarding property distribution, support, and custody. I’ll say it again: the decisions you make, and agree to in writing, are both permanent and binding. There is really no chance that you can un-sign an agreement later, even if you find out that your husband lied to you about your assets or how the law works.

In Virginia, there is such a thing as duress, but you’re more likely to win the lottery than you are to get a contract overturned on these grounds. To prove duress, you’d have to show the court two things: (1) that your husband FORCED you to sign it (like, by threatening to kill you or your children if you didn’t), and (2) prove that the agreement was unconscionable (so unfair that no reasonable person would have signed it). This is virtually impossible to prove.

Before you sign your name to any piece of paper, you need to make sure you know exactly what that paper says. You need to read that piece of paper, understand it, and know what you are obligated to do after you sign it. If there is something that is unclear to you, don’t shrug it off. Ask questions. If your husband’s attorney presents you with the agreement, seek your own counsel. Remember that his attorney is ethically obligated only to zealously represent your husband—not you.

Some of the worst cases I’ve ever seen were cases where the wife signed an agreement without knowing or understanding what it was. By that point, there’s very little that any attorney can do to fix the situation. We can try to discuss drafting an addendum (a second agreement designed to modify an already existing agreement), but if the ex-husband doesn’t want to sign it, we can’t force him to.

After you’ve signed your name to a paper, only child custody, child support, and visitation are modifiable. The reason for this is because it is in the best interests of the child(ren) involved that things be reconfigured to reflect the changing family circumstances. After you sign your agreement, the law assumes that you negotiated what was in your best interests, and there are no other safeguards in place to protect you from a wily husband.

Be careful. Read documents before you sign them. Make sure you know what it says and what it means that you’ll have to do. Ask questions. Because once you sign an agreement, there is no going back.