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Can I Change My Mind After Signing Divorce Papers?

When a divorce is finalized and you change your mind, there's not much you can do. However, if you're int he early stages of divorce, you can ask the court to look at a “significant life change” to determine if changes can be made or you can request to withdraw your petition.

It is essential to remember that a divorce judgment is legally binding. For instance, take the Wisconsin divorce case of Rintelman vs. Rintelman. In this case, a couple agreed that the husband would pay alimony to his wife even if she remarried. Attorney Erin Boyd discusses what happened when the husband tried to have this changed years later after his ex-wife remarried.

Can I Change My Mind after Signing Divorce Agreement?

In the world of Wisconsin family law and divorce, there is much talk around what constitutes a “significant change of circumstances.” In everything from child custody and child support to alimony (legally spousal maintenance), usually, a significant life change is enough to make changes to the original terms of the divorce.

But what about a change of heart? As the years go by, we see that we were not acting in our best interest. In that situation, what options do we have?

Divorce often brings out emotion for those involved, more so than many other areas of law. It is hard to separate ourselves from what we feel when it comes time to calculate the nitty-gritty details of property division or alimony.

It is essential to remember that a divorce judgment is legally binding. If things like child support were only a vague suggestion, there would be no way to enforce it. That also means that any additional agreements our spouse and we choose to make a part of that final judgment are equally binding in the eyes of the law.

That is one of the many reasons that people turn to legal help in the first place. What might seem like a minor concession to reduce conflict in the short term might haunt us in years to come.

For instance, take the Wisconsin divorce case of Rintelman vs. Rintelman. In this case, a couple agreed to hash out the details of their divorce in advance by stipulation. As part of their stipulation, however, the husband agreed to pay alimony to his wife even if she remarried.

Generally speaking, alimony payments continue unless there is a significant change of circumstances – for instance if the spouse receiving it gets remarried. That is one of the few circumstances that would justify terminating alimony altogether.

Understandably, the judge, confronted with this unusual arrangement, questioned it. Both sides did not budge, however, and their alimony agreement was made part of the final judgment. Predictably, years later, the wife remarried, and the husband, having undergone a change of heart, filed to terminate his alimony obligation.

Under normal circumstances, the court would have agreed with the husband. There are many cases to present the court where alimony was terminated after a spouse gets remarried. However, this was not a normal circumstance. Now, it is impossible to know what the motivations were behind the original agreement. Regardless, the record clearly showed that it was entered into willingly by both sides.

It should come as no surprise that the court denied the husband’s application to terminate alimony. The court cannot stop someone from doing something that they agreed to do. The court’s hands were tied.

Of course, had the unusual alimony language been included without the consent of either party, it would be a completely different story. The critical thing to remember here is that both husband and wife requested the court to include the new language into the divorce judgment – no one made them do it.

It is also worth noting that it is irrelevant what the original intent of the agreement was. Unless that is explicitly spelled out, the court will enforce it as written.

So before making any agreements, no matter how innocent they may seem, always consult an experienced family lawyer. Part of the job is to make sure that any agreements will not just make things better now but in the long term.

Case Law Friday is a Sterling series focused on communicating in layman's terms cases of precedent, statutes that guide decisions, and court procedures important to getting results in family law.

We hope these deep-dive conversations create clarity, enabling you to better understand the rules that govern how decisions get made in family court.

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