Amending a Divorce Agreement in Tennessee

By Beverly Bird

Tennessee refers to divorce agreements as marital dissolution agreements and after you sign one, lawyers in the state will most likely tell you it’s a done deal. After it becomes part of your decree and a judge signs the decree, you’ll have a very difficult time changing it. However, a small window of opportunity exists when you can take steps to amend or revoke it.

Before Signing

Marital dissolution agreements are the result of successful negotiations with your spouse to resolve the issues of your marriage, such as how you’re going to divide your debts and property and provide for your children. You or one of your lawyers will then memorialize the terms of your agreement in a written document and submit it to the court for a judge’s approval. The judge won’t approve it if you haven’t signed it and signing it is entirely voluntarily. Therefore, if you’re not absolutely certain the deal you’ve reached with your spouse is something you can live with, you can decline to sign the agreement and go back to the drawing board.

Revocation

If you sign the agreement and then change your mind about its terms, you can revoke it before it becomes your final decree. Your or your attorney can file notice with the court that you’re not comfortable with the document after all. You must send a copy of the notice to your spouse or her attorney as well and they may object to the revocation. They can file a motion with the court and try to compel you to honor the agreement. However, it's unlikely a judge will force you to do so against your will.

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Objection at Hearing

Judges in Tennessee usually will not sign your agreement into a decree without a brief court hearing first. The judge will want to confirm you understand its terms. Therefore, you can also try to change your agreement at this hearing by telling the judge what portions of the agreement you want to amend. The judge may work with you and your spouse at the hearing to try to come up with alternate terms. If you agree with the changed provisions, the judge will sign your new agreement into a decree.

Trial or Mediation

If you and your spouse cannot agree to new terms at the hearing, the judge will most likely order you to attend mediation to try and resolve your differences. You have the same rights in mediation as you had while negotiating the initial deal. Attendance is mandatory, but signing an agreement is voluntary. If you can't renegotiate the terms of your agreement in mediation, the court will schedule your divorce for trial and the judge will decide issues for you.

Change of Circumstances

You might want to amend your agreement months or years after your divorce is final because your circumstances have changed. You might have been fine with the agreement at the time you divorced, but its terms are no longer workable. If you can prove a material change of circumstances, meaning the change directly affects your income or children, you can sometimes modify custody, child support and alimony terms of a decree. However, provisions relating to property are generally final.

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Statute of Limitations on Separation Agreements

References

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