Agreements in Family Law: Advantages of Coming to an Agreement in Your Divorce, Custody, or Support Matter
It is not always necessary to litigate every disagreement between two parties in court. In many instances, it is possible for the parties to come to a mutually acceptable agreement to resolve their differences. This is often true even in family law, despite the emotionally charged nature of many disputes.
Divorce cases can often be lengthy, especially if the parties need to divide their assets or if one of the parties seeks alimony. Even when the parties have exchanged all of their financial information and are ready to proceed to the Divorce Master, it often takes months to get scheduled for the initial hearing in front of the Divorce Master.
If the parties are able to reach an agreement as to how to divide their assets, or as to the amount and duration of alimony or other issues, it is not always necessary for them to wait for the Divorce Master. Instead, the parties’ attorney(s) can prepare a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA), outlining the parties’ agreement. The MSA will be binding on the parties, like an order signed by a judge. An MSA can often be written, signed, and submitted to the Court within weeks, rather than months, once an agreement has been reached. Parties who are able to agree on the terms of a MSA generally spend a lot less money in attorneys’ fees than parties who proceed to the Divorce Master. Also, parties get to craft the terms of the MSA to suit their needs, rather than having a Divorce Master or judge decide what they believe is in the parties’ best interests.
Custody cases can also be lengthy, and obviously, emotions can run high when custody of children is at stake. When the parties in a custody case are able to agree on a custody schedule, that agreement can be signed and entered as an order by the judge, rather than having the parties participate in a custody conciliation, hearing, and/or trial. Just like an MSA, a custody agreement is binding on the parties and can be enforced by the Court. When parties are able to reach a custody agreement, it often reduces the tension between the parties, and it gives the parties the opportunity to craft a custody schedule and other provisions (for example, transportation or telephone contact with the children) that best suit their individual needs.
In support matters, Domestic Relations will follow the support guidelines, which take into account the parties’ incomes, child custody schedules, and some extraordinary expenses. However, these calculations are pretty straightforward, and they don’t necessarily take into account many of the other factors that may be important to parties. For example, a spouse seeking spousal support may not feel that he or she needs the full amount of support that the guidelines specify, but may instead just be looking to recoup a portion of health insurance or mortgage expenses. Parents may agree that a higher amount is warranted in a child support case, because they both want a child to pursue competitive gymnastics, which can be expensive. There are many reasons that parties may want to deviate from a recommended support amount, and if they reach an agreement on a support amount, they can either enter into a support stipulation or provide that agreement to Domestic Relations at their conference.
If you are interested in discussing your particular divorce, custody, or support matter further, contact Tanner Law Offices at (717) 731-8114 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.