A divorce under the laws of the state of New York requires the parties to resolve multiple issues, either by mutual agreement or by submitting the matter to the court to decide, before the court can enter a final judgment of divorce. Many parties are able to agree to the terms of their divorce, including equitable distribution of property and matters pertaining to any minor children. They can present this agreement to the court as a “stipulation of settlement” (SOS). Two recent decisions, Defilippi v. Defilippi and Jon v. Jon, address motions brought by a former spouse, after the entry of a final judgment of divorce, to rescind an SOS.
The parties in Defilippi negotiated a settlement and signed a written SOS in December 2013. They submitted it to the court in March 2014. The husband did not raise any objections at the time, and the judge signed it. The SOS distributed the parties’ property and debts, provided joint legal custody of the parties’ three minor children, and established the husband’s child support obligation.
According to the court, the husband complied with the provisions of the SOS, with some arrearages, for almost a year. He did not file an appeal or move to vacate the judgment of divorce, but in March 2015, he filed suit seeking to set aside the SOS as void. He claimed that the SOS did not meet the requirements for the correct form of an agreement under § 236(B)(3) of the New York Domestic Relations Law because it did not include acknowledgments “in the manner required to entitle a deed to be recorded.”
The Supreme Court for Westchester County granted the wife’s motion to dismiss the suit, finding that the husband had not stated a valid claim. It held that § 236(B)(3) only directly applies to agreements made outside of litigation, such as a pre-nuptial agreement. It cited Rio v. Rio, a 2013 decision by the Appellate Division, Second Department, which held that the lack of an acknowledgment of the kind described in § 236(B)(3) does not void an SOS. The court further found that, even if the SOS was defective, the husband had ratified it and waived any objection by complying with its terms from April 2014 through March 2015.
The Jon case turned almost exclusively on the wife’s credibility. Three days after signing the SOS in March 2014, the wife moved to rescind it. She claimed that she signed the SOS under duress, was impaired by medication at the time, and did not understand that it was the final agreement in the divorce.
After a hearing, the Supreme Court in Nassau County found that the wife was “not a credible witness” and that she entered into the agreement described in the SOS “knowing[ly] and willing[ly].” It believed her assertion that she “very quickly regretted and desired to change” the agreement, but it found that New York law does not permit withdrawal from an agreement absent specific circumstances. These circumstances include fraud, duress, and manifest unfairness, none of which were apparent in this case.
A New York divorce includes a wide range of issues that can be complicated and emotionally difficult, from property division to custody and child support. If you are involved in a New York divorce proceeding, an experienced and skilled divorce attorney can help you protect your assets and defend your rights and interests. Ingrid Gherman has represented clients in the greater New York City area in divorce cases and other family law matters for the past three decades. Contact us online or at (212) 941-0767 today to schedule a confidential consultation.
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