I’ve just finished listening to almost six hours of Continuing Legal Education. The name of this training is, “Complex Divorce Settlement Strategies”. What I learned from watching throughout the six hours could be summed up in about half a page. But far from being disappointed with the waste of my hours, first off, I must do it to remain licensed, I’ve been gratified to know I have practiced so long that I can consider myself well educated when it comes to divorce issues.
Navigating the Nuances of Divorce: Understanding the Complexity of Settlement Agreements
Why is that important? Can’t you just go to any lawyer? No. It’s also not enough to find a lawyer that does divorces. Unless of course you have no assets and no children, then it’s not difficult and almost any lawyer should be able to crank out the agreement. If you have assets, whether significant or not, there are terms that are crucial to the settlement agreement. I’m going to give you a few examples:
If you have a marital home and you are agreeable that the house can be sold. It’s not enough for your settlement agreement to say, “the parties agree the marital home shall be placed on the market”. Thinking through this issue, who is going to choose the realtor, what if the house doesn’t sell quickly, what if one party doesn’t cooperate and sign the agreement, or doesn’t cooperate and let people in the house, or leaves the house a mess and no one wants to buy it. What if they don’t agree on the price the house should be listed at, what if it doesn’t sell after a certain period? See the problems? There is one Judge in Madison County who insists that it say what happens if it doesn’t sell. Will it be refinanced and how long will it take? What if they can’t refinance it? What happens then?
Another minefield surrounds retirement accounts. I have seen this written in settlement agreements, “the parties agree to split the retirement accounts”. Hmmm, ok, which account is that, how is it going to be split, what about any earnings from before the marriage? Does it need additional paperwork to divide it, who is going to prepare it, what date is going to be divided? When are the proceeds going to be awarded to the party receiving the retirement? If they liquidate, who will get the tax hit? I recently had a client whose wife had the papers prepared. The first set of papers he provided us with were rife with mistakes regarding the division of retirement.
Custody and Child Expenses: Detailing the Essentials in Divorce Agreements
One area that causes fighting is around custody. “The parties shall split time with the children or share custody”. It’s unbelievable to me but I have seen settlement agreements that are vague and don’t really give the parents any direction. We are fortunate in Madison County and have Standing Orders that govern behavior and we also have standard custody schedules. We had a presiding Judge who helped institute these rules and it’s made our lives much easier. The custody agreement should be as specific as possible. What’s wrong with the provision above? So much! When will they share custody? From what time to what time? What if they can’t agree on the time? What if they have special family events and it’s going to cause a shift in custody? Who is going to make the decisions? What if they can’t agree? And on and on!
One last problematic provision, “The parties agree to share the expenses of the children”. I bet you are catching on. What expenses? Is there a limit on how much? Who decides the limit? What if they don’t agree on the expense? When do they have to reimburse? What happens if they don’t? How long do they have to share expenses? What kind of expenses are they sharing? Do they share equally?
The Importance of Precision in Divorce Settlements: Why Expert Legal Counsel Matters
These complex issues are in almost every aspect of the divorce settlement agreement. It’s so important to hire an attorney who is familiar with the issues. Property settlements cannot be modified. If you have an agreement that is not clear on the issues related to property issues, there is nothing you can do. My six hours is almost coming to an end and while I haven’t come away with any “aha” moments, I have come away with reminders of how important it is to get it right.