Getting a divorce is a tough process, but it’s important to come to a divorce settlement agreement. Learn what to expect here.
The United States has the third-highest divorce rate in the world. Another married American couple dissolves every 36 seconds.
The divorce settlement is often the most difficult part of the process. The document determines how you’ll share everything from assets to debt to child support. The problem is that creating it requires a couple to agree during a time when they often can’t stand the sight of each other.
Read on to learn what to expect from a divorce settlement.
Where to Start
Couples can begin drafting a divorce settlement at any time. The sooner you begin, the less drawn-out the process will be.
Start by including all the basic information about your marriage. This includes:
- Your names
- Your current living arrangements
- The date of your marriage and separation
- The names and ages of any children
- The grounds for your divorce
A lawyer isn’t necessary to go any further than that, but both spouses should have their own representation. They can protect the couple’s rights while helping them reach a fair settlement.
Division of Assets
Financial issues cause 41% of divorces, the second most common reason behind infidelity. If lying about your assets and debt tore you apart, a settlement agreement should motivate you to stop.
Marital property is anything gained during the marriage. Separate property is anything acquired before the marriage or after separation.
State laws determine how marital and separate property get split. Community property states divide it 50/50. There are only nine that follow this rule, including:
- New Mexico
Puerto Rico is another example. Alaska allows couples to opt into this type of distribution.
Other states follow what’s known as equitable distribution. The court gets to look at the case and determine what’s fair. They look at the length of the marriage and each spouse’s contributions, earning capacity, and separate property.
Custody and Child Support
One in two children will watch their parents split up. It’s devastating enough to increase their risk of behavioral issues later in life.
Trying to agree on custody and child support makes it even more difficult. Where will they live and go on vacations? How often will they visit each parent? Who makes the important decisions in their life? Who pays for what when it comes to their care?
Any of these issues can become heated and go to court. Shared custody is the most common outcome, but it depends on the situation and the child custody laws of the state. The decision also depends on factors such as each parent’s income, who has current physical custody, and childcare costs.
Agreeing on child support payments can also be a hot-button issue in any divorce settlement. This is a much more case-by-case issue. The court will have to come up with a number for you if you can’t agree on one.
Alimony or spousal support is not part of every divorce judgment. It’s only necessary when one spouse is deemed to be financially dependent on or earns substantially less than the other.
One spouse may have mental or physical issues that prevent them from getting a job. They may be a stay-at-home parent who needs help raising their children. They may need money to help them complete their education to get a job.
Consider divorce mediation if you and your spouse can’t settle, It’s a way to help you communicate what you both want and need. You’ll get the help of a neutral third party known as a mediator. The best choice is an expert mediation lawyer.
Mediation occurs over several sessions, and there’s no definitive timeline of how long it will take. It ends when you come to an agreement that you both consider fair. It’s a win-win for both sides, and the court may require it if you can’t agree on all terms of the divorce.
You’ll also have to agree on how to pay for this mediation as part of your divorce finances. Couples tend to split it evenly or divide it based on their income. Your mediator can even help with this issue if you need them to. Whatever price you reach is worth it because a mediated divorce tends to be less expensive and time-consuming than a contested one.
Signing/Modifying the Agreement
You are never required to sign any divorce settlement your spouse gives you. It’ll typically be considered invalid if they threatened or pressured you to do so. Take the time to come to terms you agree with, but know that refusing to agree out of spite can backfire.
An agreement becomes enforceable as soon as you sign it. It doesn’t go into effect until it goes to court and can be changed once it does. When both spouses and the judge agree that the terms are fair, they’ll approve it, enter the final divorce decree, or judge the legal dissolution of your marriage.
The terms of the settlement can be changed after that, but only if both spouses agree. It requires another court order.
Modifying child custody or support agreements requires proof of substantial life changes such as one spouse moving or losing their job. Spousal support should be set as modifiable or non-modifiable in the original agreement. Changes to alimony amounts and other financial provisions are harder to get approved. It requires proof that the paying spouse’s financial situation has drastically changed.
Both spouses are beholden to all terms of the agreement. One can file a motion for enforcement against the other for any violations. They could face serious penalties if the motion gets enforced by the court.
Where to Get a Divorce Settlement
A divorce settlement is one of the more powerful types of legal documents. It outlines how finances and families are divided when couples split up.
Take care when creating a settlement to make sure that all the terms are fair. They’re difficult to alter and come with penalties if broken.
Mediation with a neutral third party helps when it’s too difficult to reach an agreement. Get started with FairWell Family Law Mediation today.