Q. I got divorced about six months ago. I work remotely, which is fine so long as I have an internet connection. My ex has a day job, but we had approximately equal incomes, and no children.
The only issue was division of our two houses, one in Massachusetts and one in Naples, Fla. After the divorce, I moved to Naples. Now, just a few months later, the recent hurricane blew the Naples house to pieces.
I have insurance, but it isn’t enough to rebuild the house. To rebuild properly I’d need to use all my liquid assets. In the meantime, I don’t have a place to work from, so I’m worried that I’ll lose my job.
Is it possible to reopen the divorce to revise the settlement agreement?
A. I’d bet that, like most agreements, your agreement: a) was incorporated into, but not merged into the judgment of divorce; and (b) provides that the all assets were disclosed, you had time to (and maybe you did) consult with a lawyer, and that you signed the agreement without any duress or undue influence.
When the parties agreement is not merged into the judgment, then the court cannot change the terms of the agreement unless it involves child-related matters and, in some cases, alimony issues. That results in finality of the settlement, and it often allows each party to plan what they want to do in the future without having to get their ex-spouse’s permission. Although it won’t help your situation, if you want to read the relevant Massachusetts case, go to my web site, wendyhickeylaw.com and search for Ames v. Perry.
While you didn’t mention it, I assume you also permanently waived alimony. There, too, even if you lose your job, it is probably that the court would not reopen the case and award you alimony.
Of course, if you and your ex-husband had an amicable divorce, he might be willing to help you re-build either by giving or lending you some money or being on a mortgage.
When deciding a divorce case, the probate court judges do not have a crystal ball or try to guess what will occur in the future. The court uses the facts that were entered in to evidence by testimony and documents. Assuming your two houses were of equal value, the judge would likely have made the same decision made by you and your husband. And that decision would probably not be changed because your house was actually blown down.
So, as I’ve often said to clients, even though you have serious problems, you no longer have to deal with, make meals for, or accommodate your ex. As they used to say in the old days: You’ve got a lot of Moxie and the smarts to dig out from this mess. So why go back to that worn-out jalopy?