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Many renegotiate divorce in tough times

June 18, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Everywhere you look these days, the economy is making an impact -- even in divorces. It turns out more and more couples have to renegotiate settlements because their financial situation has changed. It's a growing trend, and there are tips you need to know if you find yourself in this situation.Settlements made during a divorce can be changed if both parties agree. And in this economy, sometimes that makes much more sense than leaving things the way they are. In other words, something is usually better than nothing.

As a single mom, Joni Carley worried when expenses for her two sons went way up.

"Economic changes were huge in these last few years," said Joni.

She says she had no choice but to go back to court and try to change her divorce settlement. Many people think a divorce decree signed by a judge is set in stone, but that's not the case. Renegotiation is common, even years after a marriage dissolves.

"Because divorces involve real people in real situations, real things happen to them," said attorney Ike Vanden Eykel. "They get pay reductions. They lose their job. They get ill. They get disabled."

So what do you do? If you're the one who is supposed to pay, but can't, don't ignore the problem.

"If you do nothing in a situation where you have a court-ordered obligation, every day that goes by where you are not compliant with that order, things get worse," said Vanden Eykel.

So where do you start?

"Number one, talk to your former spouse," said Vanden Eykel. "And not dictate, but talk to them."

Then get your lawyer involved to make it all legal. Whether you make the payments and are asked to give more (or you're the one receiving and are asked to accept less), experts say you should keep in mind the role this brutal economy is playing.

"Listen, and don't just automatically say no," said Vanden Eykel.

It's always a good idea to get proof of any change in finances, and you might want to set a time period for how long the new agreement will last.

"It needs to have some kind of ending date," said Vanden Eykel.

Meantime, the ex who needs a change in plans can help in other ways.

"Offering alternative measures to help out can ease the burden of what you're asking the other side to accept," said Vanden Eykel. "By way of example, [you could say] 'I can help you out on transporting the kids'."

Part of Joni's settlement was renegotiated, but not everything. Her advice to others is to try and work it out together for the kids' sake.

"The most important thing is for both parents to step up to the plate and do their best for the kids," said Joni.

Lawyers suggest other options to help both parties in this scenario. For example, an ex may no longer be able to pay, but could swap assets - such as a vehicle - to help make up some of the difference. They could also lengthen the amount of time they are supposed to pay in exchange for paying less.

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