What is a Divorce Settlement Agreement?

What is a Divorce Settlement Agreement?

If you want to end your marriage in the state of New Jersey, you might be worried that you'll have to go through a long and bitter litigation process. However, many couples resolve their outstanding divorce issues by negotiating full divorce settlement agreements. Settling your divorce can reduce the time and expenses involved with separating from your spouse, in addition it can also help to keep conflicts to a minimum. A divorce lawyer in at Ziegler Law Group, LLC might facilitate negotiations on your behalf to secure a fair agreement that protects your interests.

What is a Divorce Settlement?

A divorce settlement is a formal legal agreement that includes all the terms of your divorce. If you resolve your divorce through a settlement with your spouse, you won't have to go to trial. In some cases, couples negotiate agreements before they file for divorce to make the process simpler and faster. You can negotiate a settlement agreement with your spouse on your own, however it's typically best to work with a divorce lawyer in New Jersey to ensure your interests are protected.

An attorney can also make sure the divorce settlement agreement is written in such a way that it will clearly define issues about how your property and debts will be divided, whether spousal support will be paid (including the amounts,) and how child custody/visitation will be handled.

A divorce settlement agreement is a legal contract that resolves all issues and is the final agreement between you and your spouse. When an agreement is reached , it will then be filed with the court.The judge will question you and your spouse to ensure the agreement is voluntary and that both of you agree that it is fair. The judge will then adopt the agreement as a part of your final divorce decree.

Here are some of the things that should be addressed in your settlement agreement:

Division of Assets and Debts

New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, which means that courts divide a couple's assets according to what is fair rather than equally. If you negotiate a settlement agreement, you and your spouse will agree on how to divide your assets and debts instead of leaving the decisions up to the court.

All assets you and your spouse acquired during your marriage are marital assets, meaning they will be divisible in your divorce. This includes retirement account contributions, pensions, business interests, checking accounts, investments, and more. The separate property you or your spouse owned before your marriage are not marital assets and will not be divided. Debts you acquired during your marriage also should be divided. A divorce lawyer in New Jersey can help you think about the best ways to divide your assets and debts and negotiate with your spouse to reach an agreement.

Child Custody, Visitation, and Child Support

If you and your spouse share children who are minors, your case will be more complex. You'll need to reach an agreement about legal custody, which is who can make important decisions about your child's religion, education, and medical care. You'll also need to figure out residential custody and visitation, which refers to with whom the child will spend time, when, and the duration of visits.

Visitation and child custody should include holiday arrangements, birthdays, summer breaks, and other times when there would be alterations to the regular schedule. Your agreement should also include information about child support, how it will be paid and whether one spouse will be responsible for providing medical insurance, as well as who will pay for school expenses.

Alimony

Alimony is support paid by a higher-earning spouse to a lower-earning spouse to help them make ends meet until they can become financially self-supporting. While alimony isn't awarded in every case, you might want to include it in your agreement if one spouse earns substantially more, and the other spouse is dependent on their income.

How to Negotiate a Divorce Settlement Agreement

To negotiate a divorce settlement agreement, you'll need to view the situation logically and set aside any emotions you might be experiencing. Making emotional decisions in your divorce can hinder your ability to reach an agreement, and it might also leave you with regrets later after your divorce is final. Here are some steps to take to negotiate a settlement agreement:

1. Inventory Your Assets and Debts

Make sure you have a complete picture of your assets and debts. You and your spouse will need to exchange financial documents to provide a complete picture of your finances. Be honest with your spouse, and don't attempt to hide assets or debts. If you fail to honestly disclose your assets, your spouse could come back later and challenge your property division, which can result in the court re-opening your case.

2. Speak to a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey

While you can try to negotiate a settlement agreement on your own, it's better to get help from an experienced divorce attorney who understands the relevant laws and can help to protect you from making costly errors. A lawyer can also step outside of any emotional conflict you might be dealing with to and approach the negotiations from a logical, objective standpoint. Your attorney can help you understand the law about property division, debts, tax implications, child support, child custody, and alimony. Knowing these laws can help you reach a legally valid agreement that fairly protects your interests.

3. Know Your Goals

Take time to think about your long-term goals for what you would like your life to be like once your divorce is over. Don't focus on keeping your spouse from "winning." If you focus on your long-term interests, you'll be more inclined to craft an agreement you can live with. A divorce lawyer can talk to you about your goals and figure out what you need to do in order to achieve them. Knowing your goals can provide a good springboard for effective negotiations because you'll know what you can let go and what you should fight for.

4. Learn Your Spouse's Goals

It's also a good idea to learn what your spouse's goals are for their future. Knowing what your spouse would like to achieve can help both of you work together, to create an agreement that allows both of you to benefit. A good way to facilitate a goal-oriented settlement agreement is to agree to attend divorce mediation. This is an out-of-court process during which both of you will meet separately with a divorce settlement mediator. A mediator is trained in divorce law and will work with both of you to try to reach an agreement that will settle all outstanding issues. If you and your spouse each know what the other is trying to achieve, it might be easier for you to reach a mediated agreement.

5. Create Goodwill

Before you start negotiating over the major issues, start discussing smaller goals with your spouse in order to foster good faith. Showing your spouse you are willing to negotiate can help you resolve the bigger issues with the guidance of an experienced divorce lawyer.

Benefits of a Divorce Settlement Agreement

A divorce settlement agreement offers the following benefits:

  • A faster divorce process vs. litigating
  • Less expensive than litigation
  • Provides more control over outcomes
  • More satisfied with final arrangements vs. what the court might decide
  • Could provide a springboard for positive co-parenting, when children are involved

When Might a Settlement Agreement Not Be in Your Interests?

Before you work on negotiating a property settlement agreement, you should consider whether it is possible in your situation. There are certain cases in which litigation is more appropriate, including:

  • History of domestic violence
  • Child abuse committed by one spouse
  • Drug or alcohol addictions that could endanger the safety of children while in the addicted parent's care
  • Suspicions that one spouse is concealing assets


If you are dealing with one of these situations, or any other concerning circumstance, talk to your divorce lawyer about the strategies you should use to protect yourself and your children.

Can A Divorce Settlement Agreement Be Modified Later?

You can agree to modify your settlement agreement after it is filed if you believe a change is warranted. However, you should probably attend divorce mediation before filing a modification request. Changes to child custody and support based on significant changes in circumstances might be granted by the court. However, changes to the property settlement agreement without the agreement of your former spouse are unlikely to be made. However, if you later learn your spouse failed to disclose significant assets, you could file a motion with the court to seek a change based on your spouse's nondisclosure.

Talk to a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey

Reaching a full settlement might be the best way to resolve your divorce. If you believe you and your spouse might be able to reach an agreement, working with an attorney to negotiate for you can make it likelier to happen. Contact the NJ divorce lawyers of Ziegler Law Group, LLC today to schedule a consultation by calling (973) 533-1100.

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