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Making sense of what a settlement agreement is

While it is not necessary to enter into an agreement before one separates or files for divorce, the sooner one does, the less potential there are for delays in a divorce case. When it comes to a dissolution of a marriage, a judge will require former spouses to agree and sign a settlement.

This agreement will not only establish the division of marital assets, but it will also spell out any spousal support or alimony agreed to as well as child custody arrangements, in cases in which minor children are involved. It is the preemptive document necessary for a judge to finalize a divorce.

Once signed, a settlement agreement becomes a binding document. It is submitted to the court for the judge and he or she reviews the document for fairness. The agreement becomes part of the final divorce decree.

Once entered into the record, if either spouse violates the agreement, he or she will be held in contempt of court. If an agreement cannot be reached prior to court, it is left to the judge to make decisions on one's behalf; the results cannot be predicted.

If your spouse or his or her attorney draws up an agreement that you do not like, do not sign it. Even if you does find the agreement on the surface to be satisfactory, you should at least have your own attorney review the document for fairness and/or errors.

While you can draft a document together with you spouse, often the document is not specific enough to meet the state guidelines. Because an attorney cannot represent both spouses, you will need their own attorneys to attest that you've been apprised of your rights.

If you have signed a divorce agreement and later both parties decide not to follow it and/or change some aspects of it, you can file a modification agreement. Otherwise, at a later date, one party can argue that the other party failed to abide by the agreement.

Because of the complexities of a divorce, if you or someone you know is in the process of one, the advice and counsel of an experienced collaborative law divorce attorney can greatly reduce the trials and tribulations associated with the process.

Source: DivorceNet, "What is a settlement agreement?," accessed Jan. 27, 2017

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