A divorce settlement agreement details the terms of your divorce including property division, spousal and child support, and child custody. Like any other contract, once it is signed, it can be enforced in court if one of the parties fails to meet his or her obligations. It’s also similar to other types of contracts in how courts decide a matter that is not covered in the agreement. If your divorce settlement agreement is vague or fails to address an issue resulting in a dispute between you and your ex-spouse, here are a few things you should know:
How Do Courts Interpret Divorce Settlement Agreements?
When there is a dispute, judges first look at the four corners of the divorce settlement agreement to determine whether there is anything expressly within the document that resolves the question before the court. This means they review and decide the dispute based on the plain language of the agreement without looking at any other evidence. The court cannot read anything into the agreement that contradicts its express language.
The rationale is that the agreement is supposed to set forth the intent and wishes of the parties when they negotiated the agreement. It is assumed that the parties discussed all the issues and either accepted or discarded the terms they wanted. As a result, courts cannot look at outside evidence of what the parties intended.
What Does the Court Do If an Issue Is Not Clearly Addressed in the Divorce Settlement Agreement?
If the agreement is vague or it omits language regarding how a particular matter should be handled, the court will also consider the four corners of the agreement. The judge will evaluate how the agreement generally addresses similar matters, and then apply that general intent to the specific disputed issue.
How Can You Avoid Disputes Over Your Divorce Settlement Agreement?
A well-drafted divorce settlement agreement can significantly reduce the risk of litigation. Agreements must be well-written with terms spelled out in a precise and succinct manner. They must also carefully address all the necessary issues in the divorce.
If you have a poorly drafted agreement, you run the risk of signing an agreement that will not represent the terms you thought you agreed to. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to challenge or set aside an agreement so you will be stuck with whatever decision the court makes.
If you are considering divorce, it is important to get an attorney you can trust to handle your case and protect your interests. Contact us to learn how we can help you achieve a positive outcome in your divorce.