The acceptance of benefits doctrine stands for the proposition that you cannot go back to court to attempt to modify your divorce decree once you have accepted its benefits.
As with most legal doctrines, however, this one has exceptions in certain situations. FindLaw reports one such exception in the case of Kramer v. Kastleman.
Trial and appellate court proceedings
Ms. Kramer and Mr. Kastleman were a married Texas couple who accumulated upwards of $30 million in marital assets before obtaining a divorce. Initially, the trial court issued a verbal divorce decree that incorporated the couple’s written property settlement agreement that both parties had signed. The court did not issue a written decree until about a year later.
In the interim, Ms. Kramer went back to court, challenging the validity of the PSA on the grounds that Mr. Kastleman fraudulently induced her to sign it. He not only denied the allegation, but also argued that since Ms. Kramer had already accepted substantial benefits from the PSA, the acceptance of benefits doctrine precluded her challenge. The trial court agreed with Mr. Kastleman and denied Ms. Kramer’s petition. When she appealed, the appellate court denied her right to appeal, again based on the acceptance of benefits doctrine. She subsequently appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.
Supreme Court decree
The Texas Supreme Court overruled both the trial court and the appellate court, holding the acceptance of benefits doctrine inapplicable in the couple’s specific fact situation. First, it held that the trial court’s verbal divorce decree did not constitute a final decree. Second, it held that regardless of the fact that Ms. Kramer benefited from the PSA, she had not specifically intended to do so. It therefore sent the case back to the trial court with instructions to revise its ruling consistent with this one.
While a Texas Supreme Court decision carries no binding precedential value in Illinois, you should nevertheless make sure you understand exactly what your property settlement agreement says before you sign it.