Can a divorce settlement be modified years after the fact?

Although parties approaching a divorce collaboratively might expect a divorce court to approve their settlement with minimal hassle, a recent celebrity example shows that even mutual proposals may be subject to scrutiny if they are unfair.

The celebrity is actor Terrence Howard, who divorced from his second wife in 2012. The couple entered into a settlement that provided Howard’s second wife with a portion of his earnings from his television show "Empire." However, the actor recently went back to court, alleging that the settlement was the result of extortion. Specifically, he claimed that his second wife had threatened to release phone sex recordings and a video of him dancing in the nude. As relief, he requested a post-divorce modification that would cease the "Empire" payments.

The court agreed with Howard’s allegation, concluding that the second wife had failed to rebut Howard’s evidence of duress or extortion. Part of that evidence included a telephone call recording, during which the second wife reportedly threatened to sell private information about Howard unless she received a payment by day’s end. Howard further asserted that he sent $40,000 to his second wife after that phone call.

Notably, the outcome in Howard’s favor may also be partly due to a procedural error: The second wife could not testify at the recent court proceeding because she failed to file a sworn declaration in advance. Although the second wife presented allegations of domestic violence and has a restraining order against Howard that is still active, the court found those allegations inapposite to the extortion issue at hand.

As in other types of litigation, procedures must be followed in a divorce court. Failing to abide by the court’s requirements may harm a party’s position. I have many years of experience in Maryland’s family law courts and can put my familiarity with court procedures to a client’s advantage.

Source: Washington Post, "Judge overturns actor Terrence Howard’s divorce settlement," Anthony McCartney, Aug 24, 2015