Going through the dissolution of your marriage (or divorce) is usually a tough process for most married persons and/or domestic partners. One finds themselves having to make some tough life decisions whilst trying to find a common ground for difficult issues such as child custody, parenting rights, division of real and personal property, as well as child and spousal support.
The terms and conditions of the dissolution may seem simple at first, especially when the adults involved in the dissolution have mutually agreed to the terms. However, even in situations where the parties remain amicable and dedicated to a reasonable and uncontested divorce, there are matters that are consistently overlooked or under-analyzed.
In addition, terms that may seem completely reasonable at the time, may eventually become unreasonable down the road, for one or both parties, based on an unforeseen change in economic circum stances.
This was the situation in a recent Oregon Court of Appeals decision, published on June 7, 2017. In Sheil and Sheil, 286 Or App 34 (2017), the case involved a couple that had ended their 18-year marriage in 2005. At the time of dissolution, the husband was earning approximately $58,000 per year, while the wife was earning roughly $16,000 per year. The parties agreed to enter into a stipulated judgment where the wife was entitled to a non-modifiable award of $1,500 a month in maintenance spousal support.
In 2014, the husband retired from his job and attempted to start a career in farming, which was not as lucrative as he had hoped. The husband then attempted to modify the spousal support award, as permitted by law, in light of his financial circumstances. While the trial court agreed with the husband, the Oregon Court of Appeals subsequently reversed this decision.
The Court of Appeals found that an agreement to waive the right to seek modification of spousal support is enforceable as long as it does not violate public policy. Additionally, the Court of Appeals referenced a 2013 Oregon Supreme Court case, where a non-modifiable child support award was entered into, and found to be enforceable despite efforts by the husband to alter the award, Matar and Harake, 353 Or 446 (2013).
Ultimately, the courts have found these types of provisions to be enforceable in the absence of a violation of law or public policy. As such, the $1,500 monthly spousal support award was upheld in this case, despite the unexpected change in husband’s economic circumstances. These types of situations, which might not be anticipated by the average person, can be anticipated by a good family law attorney and addressed appropriately during the dissolution process.
Often times, parties will have one side prepare the necessary documents to effectuate the dissolution. While this may be cost-effective, the party without the benefit of counsel runs the very real risk of agreeing to terms that are not subject to future modification, regardless of any unforeseeable change that may unfortunately occur.
If you, or someone you know, is confused about the terms of a divorce, or the documents received, it is better to have a family law attorney review these documents and advise you appropriately. Otherwise, you could be stuck with what you bargained for.