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Can Divorce Settlements Be Reopened & Or Do They Expire?

Divorce settlements in the UK can be reopened if there is evidence of material non-disclosure, significant post-settlement events, or if the agreement was made under fraud, mistake, or undue influence. Family Lawyer, Lucy Batstone, outlines if and when financial settlements can be reopened.

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    During a divorce in the UK, securing a divorce settlement is a pivotal step in resolving both parties’ financial matters, ensuring a fair financial settlement is reached.

    Typically, these financial settlements are designed to provide a clean break, effectively severing financial ties and aiming to be conclusive and permanent.

    It is widely accepted that once a financial settlement is ratified by a Consent Order, it precludes either party from making future claims on the other’s finances.

    However, there are exceptional circumstances under which a divorce financial settlement may be subject to alterations or even reopened.

    Though infrequent, these scenarios are possible when certain specific conditions are met.

    For example, if there’s been a non-disclosure of substantial assets, a change in the law, or an event that significantly alters the foundation of the original order, the courts may consider revisiting the financial settlement.

    Grasping the finality of a divorce settlement and the rare instances where it may be contested is crucial for those dealing with the intricacies of divorce proceedings.

    Key Points

    • Yes, a divorce settlement can be reopened, but only if certain actions or strict criteria are met
    • The process of reopening financial settlements requires the assistance of a family law solicitor
    • Divorce settlements do not expire as such, and can be revisited in certain situations.
    • You can appeal against a financial settlement if you believe it’s unfair.

    When Can Divorce Settlements Be Reopened In The UK?

    In the UK, divorce settlements do not inherently expire, as they are legal agreements that intend to last indefinitely. However, circumstances can warrant revisiting and potentially reopening settlements under certain conditions.

    Individuals need to understand the enduring nature of these agreements to avoid misconceptions about their permanence.

    Key factors influencing the possibility of a settlement’s alteration involve:

    1. Consent Orders: Once a financial settlement is formalised through a Consent Order, the financial ties between the parties are typically considered severed.
    2. Exceptional Circumstances: In rare cases, if material non-disclosure, fraud, or a significant mistake is discovered, the agreement may be reviewed. It should be noted that such instances are the exception rather than the rule.
    3. Legislative Parameters: The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 outlines the criteria to be considered during settlement, which, when not adhered to correctly, could leave room for re-examination.
    4. Implementation Timeframe: Agreement terms, especially those concerning child maintenance, may contain built-in reviews after a predetermined period, reflecting children’s changing needs.

    To conclude, while divorce settlements are designed to be long-term and final, they can be revisited under very specific and rare circumstances.

    Familiarity with these conditions can aid individuals in understanding their rights and obligations regarding the longevity of their financial agreements post-divorce.

    What Factors Are Considered When Reopening Divorce Settlements?

    In the UK, the finality of a divorce settlement is generally respected by the courts.

    However, there are certain circumstances under which a divorce settlement can be reopened. Here are three important points to consider:

    1. Material Non-Disclosure: One of the primary reasons a divorce settlement can be challenged is if there was material non-disclosure by one of the parties. This means that if, at the time of the settlement, one party did not disclose significant assets or financial information which would have likely led to a different settlement outcome, the courts may consider reopening the case. This is based on the principle that both parties should provide full and frank financial disclosure during divorce proceedings.
    2. Subsequent Events: In some cases, if there are significant events that occur shortly after the settlement that fundamentally change the assumptions upon which the settlement was based, a party may apply to the court to have the settlement revisited. An example might be a sudden and unforeseeable change in the financial circumstances of one party. However, this is rare and the threshold for what constitutes a significant event is high.
    3. Fraud, Mistake, or Undue Influence: If the original settlement was reached under conditions of fraud, mistake, or undue influence, a party may apply to have the settlement set aside. This would involve proving that the agreement was entered into under false pretenses or that one party was coerced into agreeing to the terms without fully understanding them or without the capacity to do so.

    It’s important to note that there is no strict ‘expiry date’ for challenging a divorce settlement. However, the longer the time that has passed since the order was made, the less likely a court is to reopen the settlement.

    The courts value finality and certainty in financial matters following divorce, so any application to reopen a settlement would need to be made as soon as the grounds for doing so become apparent.

    If you believe you have grounds to reopen a divorce settlement, or if you are facing an application from your former spouse to reopen negotiations, it’s crucial to seek legal advice from an expert financial settlement solicitor.

    They can guide you on the strength of your case and the likelihood of success, as well as represent you throughout the process.

    What Is The Process for Reopening a Divorce Settlement?

    Reopening a divorce financial settlement is possible but subject to strict legal criteria and procedures.

    The process to reopen a financial settlement generally involves the following steps:

    1. Identifying a ‘Barder’ Event: This refers to an extraordinary change in circumstances that undermines the basis of the original settlement. These events must be unforeseen and significant, such as the sudden death of one party soon after the settlement.
    2. Application for Leave: Parties must first apply for leave (permission) from the court to challenge the order. The request must be made without undue delay after the occurrence of the ‘Barder’ event.
    3. Filing an Appeal: If leave is granted, an appeal can be lodged to revisit the terms of the settlement. The Court will then consider whether to allow the reopening of the case.
    4. Demonstration that No Prejudice is caused to Third Parties: It must be shown that reopening the settlement will not unfairly affect any third parties who have acquired assets in good faith.

    The Court takes a cautious approach to these applications, emphasising the finality of divorce settlements. It is paramount to provide compelling evidence that truly extraordinary circumstances exist to justify revisiting a case.

    Additionally, the timing of the application is critical, as undue delays can prejudice the ability to appeal.

    Essentially, these steps constitute a high threshold to meet and are primarily in place to safeguard the integrity of final settlements, while still providing a means to rectify outcomes should something truly unexpected overturn the foundational assumptions of the original agreement.

    What Do Case Law Examples Highlight?

    In this section, we cover certain landmark cases that have established precedents under which divorce financial settlements can be revisited and potentially reopened.

    Most notably, the Barder principle, originating from the case of Barder vs Barder (1987), is a cornerstone in this area.

    The court may permit a financial settlement to be reopened if an event occurs that significantly alters the fundamental assumptions upon which the original order was made.

    Four key Barder conditions must be met:

    1. A significant change must undermine the original agreement’s basis.
    2. The new events should occur within a relatively short period after the consent order.
    3. The order must have been legally final with no pending appeals.
    4. Reopening the settlement should not unfairly prejudice a third party who has acquired interests in good faith.

    The Supreme Court further clarified the legal position in cases involving non-disclosure.

    It held that a settlement can be challenged if one party is found to have concealed assets or misrepresented their value during the proceedings, as evidenced in landmark rulings enabling financial redress for such deceit.

    Moreover, the so-called ‘Wyatt’ case established that there is no time limit on reopening divorce settlements if the case is sufficiently extraordinary, thus providing an extended scope for challenging past settlements.

    The UK legal framework acknowledges the necessity for flexibility under exceptional circumstances. For instance, the concept of ‘Barder’ events grants the possibility of revisiting a financial settlement if subsequent, unforeseen, and fundamental changes undermine the basis of the original order.

    In summary, while financial settlements are designed to be conclusive, they may be reexamined in the face of profound financial shifts or fundamental changes that render the original agreement inappropriate.

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