By: Tayane M. Oliveira, Esq.
All too often,in an effort to avoid the emotional and gut-wrenching efforts to get through a legal proceeding, save money on attorney’s fees, or simply avoid “dealing with it”, parties end up signing highly prejudicial legal contracts without fully understanding the terms they are agreeing to and the ensuing legal consequences of doing so. Settlement agreements are legally-binding, written contracts that resolve issues related to your specific legal matter and will be incorporated to a legally enforceable court order.There are multiple settlement agreements involved in family law matters. Typically, these agreements lay out the terms that you must comply with moving forward and include provisions that determine the distribution of property (assets and debts), alimony(spousal support), child support, child custody, visitation schedules,etc. The settlement agreement is a crucial part of your case, and it cannot be stressed enough how these details must be considered carefully.
Many couples believe they will agree on everything and write their own agreement, or utilize paralegal services, without understanding the importance of having a licensed attorney review the terms of the document and fully explain your rights, and potential non-modifiable waiver of these rights. This is a terrible idea! Not only could you make mistakes that impact your long-term rights, like agreeing to pay more child support or alimony than you could realistically afford, rendering you financially destitute, but you can write it in such a way that is vague and unclear as to how assets are divided, debts are to be paid off, support payments will be made, and what happens if one party does not comply. Parties representing themselves, or even paralegals, are not lawyers, and serious problems can arise as a result of the failure of understanding legal phrases and terminology. If you fail to catch something, you may end up losing important rights.
Once you have signed an agreement, as prejudicial as it may be, the laws do not prevent people from entering “bad deals” and will enforce this agreement,except under very limited circumstances. More often than not, if there is a disagreement about a provision later, you could end up spending more money on attorneys trying to fix or clarify the agreement. Accordingly, it is imperative that you consult with an attorney prior to signing any legal document, so that you do so with full knowledge and understanding of your rights, and what the legal consequences of signing this particular document will be.
Contrary to popular belief, not all family law matters require costly, extensive litigation. Fair, equitable, and just resolutions can be obtained through amicable negotiations between the parties. At Brodzki Jacobs, our family law attorneys are extremely settlement-focused and trained to assist clients with amicably resolving their legal issues while making every effort to avoid a costly, drawn-out legal process.