tThe Indiana Dissolution Act encourages parties to reach agreements; and in fact, parties to a divorce can agree to a division of assets that a trial court judge could not order under the law that guides judges. This is because of the constitutional right to contract, strongly enforced by Indiana trial courts, the Court of Appeals, and Indiana Supreme Court.
This means that having buyer’s remorse and later wanting to go to a contested divorce trial or further negotiate is not possible. The settlement agreement, assuming approved by the court, is a binding contract.
However, there are times when a settlement is entered into with a party withholding or hiding material information to a settlement agreement the parties may reach, and, a trial court may subsequently approve. There are remedies to set aside a such an agreement, much like voiding a contract, if there was fraud.
Generally, this is found under Trial Rule 60(B) and may be a viable option depending on the facts discovered. A key is that disclosure was withheld to gain an upper hand and timely acting on the information when it is discovered. This rule gives parties a wide array of options to correct such a fraud, as well judge’s wide discretion to do what is just, or “fair and equitable”, as this is more often referred to in divorce law.
In a recent and important case decided by the Indiana Court of Appeals1, the Court refused to reverse a trial court judge’s refusal to set aside a 1997 divorce decree based on what may have been withholding information from one party. In affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeals’ opinion demonstrates two key points that must be considered in trying to set a property division aside:
First, wife had waited years before acting. Second, her attorney had advised her in writing on multiple occasions not to settle the case until the marital assets could be identified for a proper division by agreement or trial. The key information had not necessarily been withheld, but the wife just wanted to settle the case and move on; and by her own failure to get an accurate snapshot of the marital estate, had caused or contributed to the inequitable division approved by the court.
As a final note, the court looks out for the children and acts only in their best interests. Therefore, unlike property, the parties are not free to enter into an agreement that the court does not find in the children’s best interests. So parties can enter into a bad property settlement, but cannot act in a way that is not in the children’s best interests.
This blog post was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle all types of divorce, post-decree, and paternity matters and child custody matters throughout the state of Indiana. This is not a solicitation for services or specific legal advice. It is advertising.