Make sure your interests are protected.
What happens if you want to overturn your divorce agreement? In New York, that’s a difficult thing to do.
For example, in Simkin v. Blank, a couple entered into a settlement agreement that detailed the division of marital property and was incorporated into their final judgment of divorce. As part of the agreement, the husband retained bank, brokerage and similar financial accounts.
One of the unspecified brokerage accounts was maintained by Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, which was valued at $5.4 million. After Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme was exposed, the husband sought to reform the agreement based on a claim of mutual mistake and also alleged unjust enrichment. The husband claimed that the intent of the agreement was to equally divide the couple’s assets, which was frustrated because both parties were operating under a mutual mistake, i.e., that they wildly overestimated the value of the Madoff account.
Ultimately, the court found that the husband had not proven mutual mistake and found no unjust enrichment. The court found it important that, although the agreement described the division of marital property as fair and reasonable, it did not state that the parties intended an equal distribution of the marital estate.
This was a controversial case, leaving many in the legal community surprised that the court did not allow reformation based on mutual mistake. As this case demonstrates, it is difficult to overturn a divorce agreement. When facing divorce in New York, consult a knowledgeable attorney skilled in preparing divorce agreements to protect your interests and anticipate worst-case scenarios.
Jacqueline Newman joined Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein LLP in 1998 and is now the managing partner of the firm. Ms. Newman’s practice consists of litigation, collaborative law and mediation. She specializes in complex high net worth matrimonial cases and also in negotiating prenuptial agreements. Read more about Jacqueline Newman.