What to Do If You Discover Important Information After Finalizing Your Divorce
Any divorce has the potential to escalate into a heated legal battle between the divorcing spouses. The emotional stress and tension that divorce can generate can easily encourage a divorcing spouse to feel as though they just need to get through the process as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the pressure to finalize a divorce as soon as possible can easily cause a spouse to overlook key details of their divorce, ultimately resulting in an imbalanced or materially unfair divorce order. This is especially true when a divorced spouse discovers important information after their divorce has been finalized that should have been considered during their divorce case.
In the event you discover any information that you believe should have been addressed during your divorce, you should prepare for modification proceedings. When new information would have changed the outcome of your divorce, it’s important to bring it to the court’s attention and have your divorce order modified accordingly. It’s also possible to face more serious legal proceedings if you discover that your ex engaged in serious misconduct. Modification proceedings can potentially allow for changes to child support, child custody, and alimony determinations.
What Is Modification?
The California family court system recognizes that life can pose unpredictable challenges, and unforeseeable life events can materially influence the terms of a family court order. The modification process allows any party subject to a family court order to request reasonable changes to the order. The modification process is fairly simple; the party who needs the modification files a petition with their local family court that explains their desired change and an explanation as to why the change is both necessary and reasonable. The court evaluates this petition and sets a hearing date.
At the hearing, all parties subject to the order in question have the right to speak on the issue. The respondent will have the right to argue against the proposed change by refuting the petitioner’s evidence and argument, or they may recognize the requested change as fair and reasonable and agree to it with no contest.
Many people use the modification process to change their child custody arrangement, tweak child support terms, and secure changes to their spousal support terms. It’s also possible to file a petition for modification if you discover information that should have been addressed in your original divorce case. In some cases, newly revealed information can even qualify as grounds for contempt proceedings against your ex.
What Is Contempt of Court?
“Contempt of court” is a legal term referring to a party that has intentionally and willfully violated a lawful court order. It’s possible to file contempt proceedings against an ex-spouse who refuses to comply with a valid family court order, such as failing to pay alimony or child support as required or refusing to comply with custody and visitation terms. It is also possible to file contempt proceedings if you discover your ex lied during your divorce proceedings, altering the outcome of the divorce in their favor.
The most commonly cited reason for contempt proceedings in this manner is hidden assets. Divorce requires complete and accurate financial disclosure from both spouses. If one spouse does anything to interfere with this process, such as intentionally wasting marital assets or hiding assets to shield them from division, this would constitute a willful violation of the family court’s orders and qualify for contempt proceedings.
A family court judge can implement several penalties for contempt of court. They may fine the at-fault party, seize assets, or even incarcerate them until they account for their misbehavior. Depending on the scope and nature of their activities, they may also face civil liability for damages to their ex-spouse. For example, suppose a spouse intentionally hid assets that should have been divided in property division determination. In that case, the court may demand them to surrender the appropriate share of those assets and undergo a complete financial investigation. If you discover that your ex hid assets from property division, you may also have grounds to demand attorneys’ fees you incurred for these subsequent legal proceedings.
Rectifying Honest Mistakes Following Divorce
While contempt proceedings and even criminal penalties are possible for a spouse who knowingly violates family law orders or intentionally obfuscates divorce proceedings, it is also possible to discover honest mistakes after finalizing your divorce. You or your ex may have forgotten about an old pension fund, an IRA, or some other asset that both of you forgot to disclose during your divorce. This type of issue is typically easy to rectify. The ex-spouses would return to family court to submit this recently discovered information, and the court would determine the best resolution available under California state law.
It’s also possible for a divorced spouse to discover that an asset or debt was mischaracterized. For example, a community property debt may have been wrongfully characterized as one spouse’s separate debt or vice versa. If you discover any information along these lines, it’s important to notify your divorce attorney as soon as possible. They will be able to help you determine the best legal mechanisms for addressing the issue.
Find Legal Counsel for Resolving Divorce Order Disputes
Ultimately, finalizing a divorce does not guarantee the issue is entirely put to rest. You may need to revisit your divorce order multiple times in the coming years as your situation changes or if you discover information that should have been addressed in your original divorce case. Whatever your situation entails, it is vital to have legal counsel you can trust on your side as you work toward securing the changes you need in your divorce order.
Bickford, Blado & Botros understand the stress that newly discovered information can generate, and our firm has helped many recently divorced clients rectify mistakes with their divorce orders. If you believe you have grounds to modify your divorce order or if you need to hold your ex accountable for willful misconduct that occurred during your divorce proceedings, we can help. Contact us today and schedule a consultation so we can discuss the newly discovered information pertaining to your divorce order.
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