Can Modifications Be Made to Settlement Agreements in Pennsylvania?

Can Modifications Be Made to Settlement Agreements in Pennsylvania?

During divorce proceedings, a couple is required to settle several marital issues. All decisions that are made regarding them must be finalized by a judge. This is even true for decisions made during divorce mediation, as the judge reviews the couple’s agreements before they are official. In all court cases, a judge’s final decisions are considered the law. This means that once they are made, they must be followed and can be enforced by the court. While this is true, courts in Pennsylvania know that family circumstances can change over time. Because of this, modifications can be made to an order so that it can accommodate significant changes that happen throughout life. This can only be done if a spouse can prove those changes are major and ongoing.

The final economic resolution of a divorce happens one of two ways. In most cases, the parties reach an agreement before the court makes a decision about division of assets and alimony.  That agreement must be signed by both parties. The agreement may become part of the court’s divorce file, or the parties may decide to keep it out of the court file.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the Divorce Court will decide property and alimony issues.

Once the final resolution is in place, can that be changed?   

If both parties agree to the change, your lawyers should write an agreement which details the change.

If only one party wants a change, can that party go to court to ask the court to make a change?

That depends on how the plan was arrived at.  If the plan was made by an agreement, the terms of the agreement should tell you what terms can be changed, and under what circumstances.  For example, if the agreement describes how much alimony will be paid, it might also describe the circumstance where one party can ask the court to change that amount.

If the property and alimony provisions are decided by a Court, there are specific rules about what can be changed.  Those rules are very limited, but one possible change relates to permanent alimony. Permanent alimony can be ended if the receiving party “cohabits” with another individual.  It can also change if one party has a substantial change in income.

The way the law defines “cohabitation” can be very complicated.  The Court may have to wrestle with the definition of cohabitation.   Here are some possible complications:

  • the ex-wife has an overnight guest 6 out of 7 days per week, but the guest still maintains his own address.  Is that “cohabitation”?
  • But what if it is strictly a platonic relationship? Is that “cohabitation?”  
  • What if the ex-wife’s guest is a woman?   Is that “cohabitation?”

Because this is an area that is so complicated, it is often better to resolve the property issues by agreement rather than asking a court to make a decision.   When the parties write their agreement, they can decide exactly what cohabitation means for them.

Contact our Firm

If you or someone you know is looking to modify a family arrangement, contact Anderson, Converse & Fennick today.

Anderson, Converse & Fennick is an experienced law firm in York County, Pennsylvania focusing on Education Law, Family Law, Estate Planning, and Civil Litigation matters. If you need a knowledgeable attorney that will effectively represent your interests, contact Anderson, Converse & Fennick today.

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