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Law School Case Brief

Goldman v. Goldman - 282 N.Y. 296, 26 N.E.2d 265 (1940)

Rule:

The power of the court to direct a husband to make suitable provision for the support of his wife is complemented by the power to annul, modify or vary the direction thereafter and a party invoking the power of the court to give such direction cannot be heard to say that the direction so given is not subject to modification thereafter.

Facts:

Husband and wife were married on May 2, 1917 and had two children. On December 15, 1928, while living apart, they entered into a separation agreement, defining the provision which the husband should make for the support of the wife and the children. A few weeks after, the wife obtained a divorce from the husband and the judgment entered in the divorce action incorporated the stipulations of the separation agreement, fixing the manner in which the husband should carry out his marital obligations. Both the separation agreement and the judgment required the husband to pay $21,000 per annum to the wife and, in addition, stipulated amounts to meet special expenses or charges. However, the trial court modified the provisions contained in the final judgment, directing the husband to pay $14,000 per annum instead of $21,000 for the support of his wife and children. The wife appealed, urging that the provisions for the support of wife and children incorporated in a decree of divorce pursuant to a valid agreement of the parties, may not be changed or modified without the consent of both parties.

Issue:

Can the court modifiy an agreement without the consent of the parties?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the trial court's modification, rejecting the wife's claim that the provisions of support for the wife and children that were incorporated into the divorce decree pursuant to their valid support agreement could not be changed without the parties' consent. The court held that its power to make suitable provisions for such family support was complemented by the power to annul, modify, or vary the judgment. A party invoking the power of the court to enter a judgment could not be heard to say that the judgment was not modifiable. The direction contained in every judgment had to be read as if it included an express reservation that it might thereafter be annulled, varied, or modified. Words in the judgment that were inconsistent with such a reservation were of no effect. The court had no power to give a direction or enter a judgment that it had no power to change.

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