Can You Do Anything if You Have Been Duped in a Divorce?

by Beverly Bird

In a perfect world, spouses would part ways honorably, honestly and without malice. In reality, divorce is often riddled with desperation and deceit. It's not unheard of to find out that your partner is duping you, either by hiding property or cash. Your recourse depends on when in the divorce process you discover his duplicity.

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Modifying Support

You can usually modify spousal support and child support at any time during your divorce proceedings or even after your divorce is final. You must prove to the court that there's been a change of circumstances. If you discover that your spouse is hiding income, this could be grounds for modification. You'll need proof of the concealed income, but you – or your attorney – might be able to ferret out evidence through discovery, such as by issuing subpoenas to financial institutions. You can also serve your spouse with a notice demanding that he produce certain financial records. If he refuses, most states allow you to file a motion asking the court to compel him to comply. An exception exists if you've already signed a marital settlement agreement that provides for non-modifiable alimony. The court usually can't change this.

Reopening the Judgment

One reason it's important not to sign a marital settlement agreement until you've had an attorney review it is that, unlike with alimony or child support, you may not be able to undo provisions for property division. If you suspect your spouse is hiding assets, you might want to delay signing until you find out for sure. You can use the same discovery methods you would employ to identify hidden income. If your spouse doesn't comply, you can file a motion to compel as part of your divorce proceedings. After your divorce is final, however, you may have an uphill battle to straighten things out. Some states, such as Connecticut and California, allow you to ask the court to set aside your divorce decree or reopen a divorce judgment. To do this, you typically have to establish fraud, however. In Connecticut, you'll need clear and convincing proof of fraud, a heavier burden and more exacting than just establishing by a preponderance of evidence that your spouse duped you.

Factors of Timing

If your divorce isn't final yet, it's still an open court case, and you have the most options for recourse. If the court has issued a decree or judgment, however, timing can become critically important. For example, in Connecticut, you only have four months to go back to court. If you wait longer – or if it takes more time before you discover that your spouse has duped you – you have the burden of producing clear and convincing evidence of fraud. Before four months have passed, you need only prove it by a preponderance of the evidence. You might also have to prove that you petitioned the court to address the situation immediately after you learned of the deceit, and that if your spouse had been honest, your divorce would have turned out much differently. If you want to change alimony or child support, it's also important to act quickly, because the court usually can't modify the amount retroactively. The change typically begins with the date you file paperwork with the court, asking for a modification.

Other Options

If your divorce is over and you're just now discovering that your spouse duped you, you might have the remedy of a separate civil action. Some states, like California, allow you to file a tort claim against your spouse. You would have to establish that your spouse was obligated to be forthcoming in the proceedings and that you suffered harm or loss because he wasn't. You can also file a breach of fiduciary claim in family court in California after your divorce is final. After the ink has dried on your final decree or judgment, however, you'll probably need the assistance of an attorney if you're going to receive your rightful share of hidden assets or income.