Can a Judge Refuse to Enforce a Stipulation in a Divorce?

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New York courts tend to favor allowing spouses to settle disputes in divorce on their own. This saves judicial resources and the parties are usually more satisfied with the results than when a judge imposes a decision on them. As a result, when spouses settle, generally, courts will honor the terms unless there was fraud or duress, or the agreement was unconscionable. However, in some cases, enforcing an agreement can result in more litigation because of problems with the conditions or stipulations in the agreement. In such instances, while the court wouldn’t refuse to enforce the stipulation, the judge may strongly encourage the parties to find an alternative solution.

Can You Force the Court to Enforce the Stipulation in Your Divorce Agreement?

If your spouse violated the clear terms of your agreement, legally, you have the right to sue to enforce the agreement. However, if there is an undefined issue in the agreement that could cause disputes to reoccur, the court will likely urge both of you to revisit the agreement to address those loopholes. This is less costly and time-consuming for you and your spouse and the judicial system.

When Should You Renegotiate the Stipulation Rather than Sue Over Your Divorce Agreement?

While you may have legitimate reasons for wanting to keep the agreement as is, it is important to balance the short-term benefits against the long-term costs. If there are flaws in the terms that will lead to continued problems, it may be best to renegotiate the settlement – not necessarily in terms of the value of the settlement but the way that it is paid out or resolved. 

An example of this situation occurred in a recent client matter. The parties agreed to a certain percentage that each would pay toward child support expenses with Parent 1 responsible for a much greater percentage of the cost during the early years of the agreement. However, the agreement did not set any limits on the amount that each parent could spend on the children. Even though Parent 2 properly spent money on the children as per the agreement, Parent 1 objected to paying. Parent 2 wanted to enforce the agreement requiring Parent 1 to pay their share. Parent 2 wanted the court to establish a budget for the children’s expenses.

Parent 2 had the right to sue because the agreement was legal. Further, Parent 2 had specifically negotiated to eliminate a cap on the children’s expenses. The cap wasn’t a term that was inadvertently left out of the agreement. However, the court still encouraged the parties to revisit this issue to avoid recurring litigation.

Ultimately, the question in any divorce dispute is whether being right is worth it because you may pay in other ways. The pros and cons have to be weighed. While courts will enforce legal agreements, they want the parties to consider the advantages of a reasonable settlement. 

If you are considering divorce, contact us to discuss how we can help protect your interests and achieve the best result in your case.

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