When a divorce is settled via an agreement, it’s called a divorce settlement, marital settlement or collaborative settlement agreement. The agreement allows you and your spouse to have a written agreement that spells out the terms of your divorce. The agreement specifically covers one or more of the following:
- Property division
- Spousal support
- Child custody plans
- Debt division
- Child support
A divorce settlement agreement becomes binding when it’s incorporated into your divorce decree. If you or your spouse violates any part of the agreement, a judge may hold you in contempt of court.
The Agreement can be Drafted Any Time Prior to a Divorce
A divorce settlement agreement is ideal for any couple able to put their differences aside or are on speaking terms. It requires a lot of negotiation to agree on the different terms. You and your spouse can come to an agreement at any time before you separate and until your divorce trial.
Depending on your circumstances, you and your spouse may employ the help of a mediator or divorce lawyer. The mediator or lawyer will lead the negotiations and try to find common ground to make an agreement on specific terms.
You and your spouse may be tempted to handle the negotiations without help. However, it is highly recommended that you discuss your settlement with a divorce lawyer. You want a lawyer who will represent only you, not one hired to represent both of you. You need to know your legal rights.
Also, you want a lawyer to prepare your divorce agreement. It doesn’t matter if you or your spouse prepared one. Hiring a lawyer to prepare the document ensures that vital legal provisions are corrected, added or deleted.
The right legal language is used. Terms like, sole custody, waive all future claims or exclusive possession mean something. For instance, you may intend to have shared custody, but sole custody is written instead. This means that you’ve given up your rights to have joint custody to your child.
Should You Sign a Divorce Settlement Agreement You Don’t Agree With?
No. The best thing to do in this situation is discuss it with an attorney. It’s tempting to sign an agreement because you want to start over, but you must think about your future. If your spouse prepares the first draft—even if you agreed to everything verbally—still have an attorney look over it. This should be done no matter how much pressure is put on you by your spouse, family or even yourself. In fact, you nor your spouse have to sign the agreement. You won’t get into any legal trouble. Instead, you will start over again or go to divorce court.
Speaking with a Lawyer
A divorce changes your financial life drastically. Unfortunately, many individuals don’t realize that they may lose a lot of money after a divorce. So you will want to discuss how a divorce and/or divorce settlement will change yours with a lawyer:
- Health insurance
- Property ownership
- Cost of living
- Retirement plans
A divorce settlement agreement can be modified when there are changes in you or your spouse’s life. However, there are certain terms that can’t be changed depending on the wording of your original divorce agreement. For instance, it may be in the agreement that alimony is non-modifiable. In that case, you can’t go back and ask for a reduction or increase later.