Once a divorce settlement has been finalised and approved by the court, it is generally difficult to appeal, renegotiate, or go back to court to change the terms of the settlement. However, there are certain circumstances where it may be possible to challenge or vary the settlement.
You should start by asking yourself whether an intervening event has occurred since the financial order was made. This is known in legal circles as a “Barder” event, after the case in 1987, which set out exactly how such events should be dealt with. During this case, the court set out four guidelines to apply when deciding whether a financial order can be altered. These are:
- An event happens after the order that invalidates the assumptions on which it was originally made.
- The intervening event should happen within a short timeframe from the date of the original order.
- The party who wishes to change the order must apply to the court as soon as possible following the intervening event.
- Changes to the order should not adversely affect a third party who purchased property in good faith, and which had been included in the order.
Appealing a Divorce Settlement
An appeal can be made against a divorce settlement if the court has made an error in law, for example, if there has been a misinterpretation of the law, a procedural error or if the decision was not made within the scope of the court’s powers. However, appeals are rare and costly, and a party would need strong legal grounds to be successful.
Renegotiating a Divorce Settlement
If the divorce settlement was agreed through negotiation between the parties, either through mediation or direct negotiation with solicitors, it is difficult to renegotiate the terms unless there is a significant change in the parties’ circumstances. This could include a change in income, loss of employment, or a significant change in the value of assets. If there has been a significant change in circumstances, it may be possible to apply to the court to vary the terms of the settlement. However, the threshold for such changes is high, and the court will not automatically grant an application for variation.
Going Back to Court
If the divorce settlement was imposed by the court, and one party believes that the settlement is unfair, they may apply to the court to set aside the order. The application must be made within a specific timeframe, and they must show either a significant mistake was made, or the other party failed to disclose information. Additionally, another ground for revisiting the court order is where a fundamental change in the parties circumstances has occurred since the settlement was made. This is a high threshold, and the court will only consider setting aside an order in exceptional circumstances.
What are the costs of renegotiating a divorce settlement?
It is important to note that renegotiating a divorce settlement or going back to court to vary or set aside an order will incur further legal fees, and there is no guarantee that the outcome will be in your favour. It is therefore important to carefully consider the grounds for the application before proceeding and seek specialist legal advice.
Ostensibly, divorce settlements are legally binding, and once they have been approved by the court, it is challenging to appeal or renegotiate the terms. However, as we have discussed, it is possible to apply to vary or set aside a settlement in exceptional circumstances. Seeking legal advice is crucial in such circumstances to understand the options available and the likelihood of success.
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