Family Lore Clinic: Is a consent order final?
The term 'consent order' can refer to any court order made with the agreement of the parties, but in the family law context it usually refers to the order setting out the agreed financial/property settlement on divorce. This post will assume that this is what the term refers to.
The simple answer to the question is yes, a consent order is intended to be final. Whether the financial/property settlement is agreed or decided by the court, there will (or should) be a final order, which is meant to put an end to the matter.
As with any rule, however, there are exceptions. (I will not deal with the situation where one party fails to comply with the order and the other party has to go back to court to enforce it, as that does not alter the terms of the order.)
Firstly, the order may include provision for maintenance, which can be varied (or even capitalised) by the court at a later date, upon the application of either party.
Secondly, and this may be the point that the poser of the question was getting at, a consent order can be set aside if for some reason it was or has become unfair. Examples of this are:
- Where one party has failed to disclose material facts, such as a significant asset which was not therefore taken into account when the settlement was reached; or
- Where one party has used 'undue influence' to persuade the other party to agree to an unfavourable settlement; or
- Where the parties were influenced by mistake, for example as to the value of a matrimonial asset; or
- Where, shortly after the order was made, there has been a new event which invalidates the basis upon which the order was made, such as the death or unexpected remarriage of one of the parties.
In any event, my original point should be remembered: a consent order is intended to be final. The court will not therefore alter it or set it aside unless there is a good reason to do so.
(Note that this is necessarily a simplification of the law. If you require more details or specific advice, you should consult a specialist family lawyer.)