Suspicion of Fraud Will Not Defeat Divorce Settlement Agreement

Couples who have settled their divorce in Pennsylvania may recall that divorce settlement agreements are final and enforceable only if there has been a full and fair disclosure of marital assets. A recent decision of the Pennsylvania Superior Court tests this principle in a case where one spouse suspected that her husband may have been less than honest in disclosing his net worth.

In Ford v. Ford, the wife petitioned the divorce court to set aside her settlement agreement eight years after it was signed. (One might speculate that her ex husband was living better than she expected after the divorce.)  She argued that her settlement agreement was defective because a list of marital assets that was attached to her agreement did not disclose the values.  Wife pointed out that she had “little knowledge of Husband’s business dealings,” and the settlement agreement shed no new light on the value or income generated by his business. Wife also argued that Husband had breached the agreement by failing to pay his obligations on time, but she did not explain further.

The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to dismiss wife’s petition. Pennsylvania law raises a presumption that full and fair disclosure was made if the parties state in their agreement that it was made. A schedule of assets, while prudent, is not necessary, and it need not describe the values of each asset. Without any actual proof of fraud, the courts were unwilling to set aside a settlement agreement in which both parties stated that they had given their informed consent. Wife had no actual proof of fraud, only a generalized suspicion.

For couples who are divorcing, a Pennsylvania family lawyer can ensure that both parties know what they are getting, and what they are giving up, when they divide marital property and business interests.  There is great importance in finality, and the security that comes with an agreement that is clear and unambiguous.

Source: Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Ford v. Ford (unpublished), No. 1296 EDA 2013, April 7, 2014

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