Emotions often lead to bad decision making, in life and in your divorce or custody case. I could not help but think about the biblical context of this Easter season when I decided to write this article. Last Sunday was Palm Sunday in the Christian realm. It is the story of joyful emotions and awesome expectations leading to crazy celebrations. People cried out, danced, sang and threw themselves at the man on the donkey riding through town. They wanted him, would do anything for him, he was their King and rescuer. Five (5) days later, their emotions lead them to cry “crucify him..crucify him”; several hours later, we are told an innocent man died a horrific death.
Perhaps you cannot relate the emotional roller coaster ride of your divorce with the emotional roller coaster of the Easter story, but as a lawyer, I can. I see it all too often. Clients ready to throw in the towel, tired and emotionally drained decide to give away the store, sign agreements based on their emotions or conversely, clients so full of emotional anger they decide to cut off their nose to spite their face and not to sign an agreement which provides for their best interests. Know that you are the boss of your case, but as your lawyer, it is my job to think rationally without emotions; give you options, scenarios and alternatives based upon what you will likely need in the future. I always tell my clients there is a value to emotional peace, but weigh that value carefully before you sign any agreement because emotions can lead to bad deals.
Once you sign an agreement, Florida law says you are bound by that agreement unless it was reached through fraud, deceit, duress, coercion or overreaching involved. I have often heard, “I signed it under duress”, when what they really are saying is “I signed it under stress”! Stress and duress are not the same. Duress is defined in Blacks Law Dictionary as: any unlawful threat or coercion used by a person to induce another to act (or to refrain from acting) in a manner he or she otherwise would not (or would). A recent case from Florida’s lst DCA, Pierce v.Pierce, 128204, (Fla. lst DCA 2013) agreed with the 5th DCA in Hahn v Hahn, 465 1352, (Fla. 5th DCA 1985) and said “a settlement agreement may be emotionally stressful, but “emotion is not grounds to set aside an otherwise duly-executed property settlement agreement.” In the Hahn case the Wife testified she was “emotionally abused” at the time she signed the agreement. The Courts have recognized that it is normal for parties in a dissolution proceeding to be emotionally upset. Buyer’s remorse is not a sufficient basis for overturning a settlement agreement freely and voluntarily entered into just because it is a “bad” deal.
I say all this in hopes you will give great thought to your attorney’s advice, if he or she tells you an agreement is not in your best interest. Weigh that advice carefully against your emotions, otherwise you may be crying “crucify him…crucify him”!
Our office knows you are often treading water to survive and your thinking is not always based on reality but rather on your emotions that day. You may be confident that if you ask us to help you, we will do it with compassion and understanding BUT we will not be reacting or making decisions based on your emotions.
Gail Linscott Silva, Esquire