Can You Change A Separation Agreement in Maryland?

Separation agreement form

A lot can happen in a year. If you signed a separation agreement in Maryland but then something changes what seems fair, you may be looking for a way to change your agreement. Depending on what you want to adjust and what has changed in the interim, changing your agreement may be simple or it might be impossible.

What is a Divorce Separation Agreement?

When you or your spouse move out of the marital home and start planning for divorce, you may start by negotiating a separation agreement. Every decision you make about dividing furniture, or when you will see your children takes you another step toward resolving issues related to dissolving your marriage.

However, while it may seem easy to begin the negotiation of your separation agreement, finishing the negotiation is often very difficult. There may be disputed issues that both spouses feel strongly about. You may need to work with an experienced divorce attorney or mediator to work through those issues in order to reach a separation agreement you both feel comfortable with.

Ultimately, a marital separation agreement is the contract that controls how you and your spouse will divide one household into two, and how you will live apart. When you have a written separation agreement in Maryland, signed by both parties it will generally cover:

  • Child custody, visitation, and support
  • Any ongoing support contributions between the parties, for example: alimony or contribution towards the mortgage
  • Division of marital debts like the mortgage or joint credit cards
  • Health insurance for both spouses and the children
  • Division of marital property

A marital separation agreement does not end your marriage. Only a judge can do that. But an agreement does outline what life can look like while you are separated and waiting for your judgment of divorce to be entered.

Out-of-Court Options for Changing Separation Agreements

Sometimes, people change their minds after a separation agreement is signed. You may not have understood the language or the practical effects of the language in your agreement. Maybe the way the agreement was written has unintended effects. Perhaps you felt pressured to say “yes” and regret the decision now that it is done.

Other times, life changes and what worked when you negotiated a separation agreement doesn’t work in your new circumstances. A new job may make a visitation schedule impractical or require one spouse to move out of state. Unexpected unemployment could make child support payments difficult or even impossible. Changes to the real estate market could mean plans to sell your marital home no longer make sense.

When life happens, you may find yourself wondering, can a divorce agreement be changed? The answer depends on what part of your agreement needs to change, and whether both parties can agree to the change.

You and your spouse can make changes to your separation agreement in Maryland as long as you both agree to do so; you sign a new Agreement that memorializes the new terms, and then submit the new Agreement to the court. However, negotiating changes to a separation agreement can often be more difficult and emotionally charged than resolving the issues the first time. In negotiation, you and your divorce attorney should be prepared to make a strong argument as to why the change is necessary; to explain how the change might be mutually beneficial; and to consider opportunities for compromise that will entice your partner to return to the negotiation table.

Will the Court Modify a Separation Agreement in Maryland?

A separation agreement is a contract, and the courts will treat it like one. That means generally you can’t ask the court to modify a divorce agreement just because you changed your mind after the fact. However, the court will modify a separation agreement in Maryland as it relates to certain important issues.

Modifying Child Custody, Child Support, or Parenting Time Plans

Legal Custody (decision-making), Physical Custody (parenting time) and Child Support, are always subject to modification based upon a showing of material change in circumstances, when the modification is in the best interest of a child. Maryland family law gives judges the authority to modify child custody, child support, and parenting time within a separation agreement. If there has been a material change in circumstances since you entered into the separation agreement, you can ask the court to modify the parts of that agreement that relate to your children. What constitutes a material change in circumstances? Material change is a high-hurdle and a question that requires case by case assessment. If you think there may have been a material change of circumstances in your case, it is best to speak with an experienced Maryland divorce attorney that can evaluate the facts of your case and render an opinion as to whether or not a material change has occurred.

Modifying Spousal Support Awards

Awards of spousal support or alimony are also modifiable, in some cases. The court is allowed to adjust the amount or duration of spousal support paid by one party in support of the other unless separation agreement:

  • Expressly waives alimony or spousal support
  • Specifically says its alimony or spousal support terms are not subject to modification

You and your divorce lawyer should carefully review the language of your separation agreement before filing a petition to modify your divorce agreement to ensure you didn’t give away your right to request a modification.

Modifying Property Settlement Agreements

Unfortunately, many people want to change the terms of their separation agreements when they no longer think the terms of the property settlement are fair. However, modifying a divorce or separation agreement after it is signed to change the terms of property division is difficult and often impossible. Whether or not you are able to change the terms of your agreement often depends on whether or not there is a valid contract in the first place. Assessing the validity of a contract requires you to evaluate specific circumstances that are outlined under Maryland contract law.

Assuming your separation agreement was valid when you signed it, a judge may modify your Agreement (which is a contract) if the contract was signed as a result of duress (must be extreme), fraud, mutual mistake, or other inequitable conduct.

The chances of proving these requirements are slim, but under certain specific circumstances it is possible. Even when the shares of property awards heavily favor one party, the court could say you made a bad deal, but you must have had a good reason to do so. In most cases, the law will not protect you from giving away too much or getting too little and you will be stuck with what you signed, and unable to modify your divorce agreement.

How to Avoid Buyer’s Remorse in Signing a Separation Agreement

To avoid getting the short end of a separation agreement, it is important that both parties have an attorney review the agreement before it is signed. By meeting with a Maryland family lawyer first, you can better understand what you are entitled to under Maryland law, what you are getting under the separation agreement, and how that agreement will likely play out. Reviewing a separation agreement with an independent lawyer ahead of time can help you avoid buyer’s remorse, and keep you from scrambling to find a way to modify or invalidate it after the fact. While it is difficult to negotiate an agreement, it is much easier than trying to modify an agreement after the fact.

At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our divorce attorneys understand the importance of negotiating a fair separation agreement the first time. We will negotiate with your spouse or your spouse’s attorney to save you time, frustration, and possibly money later on. We also know when and how you can modify the custody and child support terms of a divorce agreement for your children’s benefit and will help you find a solution that works for you and your family. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with an attorney.