Can You Undo Divorce Decrees Once They’re Final?

by Burns & Levinson LLP
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Tying the knot… again.

Have you ever wondered if a divorce is always final or whether a divorce judgment can be “undone” or “modified?” The short answer: Like everything else, it depends.

In general, divorce and divorce judgements are final. You can’t “undo” a divorce, so to speak. The finality of a divorce is critically important. Imagine the horror if your spouse was suddenly able to reverse the divorce decree and you found yourself still married! However, most court systems have checks in place to guard against human error.

Why would you want to undo divorce decrees in the first place? Common reasons include:

  • You reconciled after all
  • You didn’t like the trial judgement
  • You want the tax and health benefits of marriage
  • You believe the terms of the final divorce settlement were unfair

It didn’t work in New Hampshire

A New Hampshire couple recently tried to “undo” their divorce decree. They were married for 24 years before filing for their divorce, and after it was final they reconciled. As a result, the couple requested that the New Hampshire court vacate their divorce judgment.

They were unsuccessful.

New Hampshire law only allows for divorce to be set aside for reasons of fraud, accident, mistake or misfortune. None of those reasons applied in this case.

When can you undo divorce decrees in MA?

Overall, Massachusetts maintains they have no statutory authority to undo divorce decrees, except in specific circumstances. Like New Hampshire, Massachusetts also allows for a divorce to be set aside for reasons of mistake, inadvertence, inexcusable neglect, newly discovered evidence and fraud.

What about other states?

Some other states, such as New York, have laws similar to New Hampshire and Massachusetts. However, courts in states such as Illinois, Mississippi and Maryland, will vacate divorces within a certain time frame or under certain circumstances, at both parties’ request.

Divorce modifications

While you can’t undo divorce decrees in MA except under very specific and technical circumstances, certain aspects of divorce judgments may be modified if circumstances warrant. Property division is always final in a divorce, but issues relating to children are always open to modification.

Further, if a couple settles a divorce, they can chose to leave open certain aspects for future modification. In that case it is possible to modify support, health insurance and other such obligations. Alternatively they can choose to have those terms “survive” and be non-modifiable except under very limited circumstances.

It is very important when you are divorcing to understand these concepts and ensure your decision is an informed one. Also equally important to know what is final when you divorce, and what may possibly be open to change in the future.

There’s hope if you find yourself wanting to undo your divorce in MA. If you and your ex have reconciled, you have the perfect reason to throw a huge party when you remarry!

All our best in the New Year!

Warm regards,
Elizabeth

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Burns & Levinson LLP | Attorney Advertising

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