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Settlement Agreements in Divorce

Should you enter into a marital settlement agreement to settle your divorce case?

At Pingel Family Law it is always our goal to help you explore alternatives to high-conflict litigation

The divorce process can be stressful, emotional and exhausting, even in a reasonably low-conflict scenario. Embarking on a divorce can take months, a lot of time in preparing information and documents to work with your attorney and can become costly, depending on the areas of disagreement and the method of how the disputes are being addressed. 

If you are hopeful to avoid a messy litigation process and come to an agreement with your spouse, at Pingel Family Law we can offer you a variety of alternative settlement methods to assist you in finding a resolution with a successful outcome for your case. No matter how complicated your case may seem, our team can help you in evaluating settlement methods, including helping you to review settlement documents, prepare settlement documents, attend and/or prepare for mediation, among other potential opportunities for resolution of your case.

Why should you want to avoid divorce court?

There are occasions where divorce court and getting the input or a decision from a judge becomes necessary. However, there are many situations where litigation is unnecessary. 

Alternative settlement methods are often more efficient. In litigation scenarios, your case has to be scheduled around the backlog of court cases in the court system and you may be waiting months for your court date. Often, resolving your case through settlement is more cost-efficient.  Finally, when you engage in a settlement process, you have control of the negotiations and outcome whereas, when you present your case and situation to a judge, you get the decision of the court and lose control in being able to request crucial things or shape the outcome of the case. 

Collaborative Divorce

After you have either completed discovery or you feel confident that you have fully determined the assets and debts involved in your situation, as well as the important considerations for custody, many families will attempt to go through a collaborative divorce process where you work informally with your spouse towards settlement. This can be done by you and your spouse communicating directly, but is often done with your lawyer scheduling a meeting with your spouse and his or her lawyer to discuss the issues and try to find common ground to reach a mutual agreement.

In your initial settlement discussions, you should ask for what you want and what you believe you deserve based on educated guidance from your counsel. You should also try to prepare for such a meeting by speculating about what your spouse will likely request and what he or she will believe that they deserve. Negotiating in good faith will help each spouse move the settlement process forward in a productive way. 

There is no limit to the length or the number of meetings or amount of effort you and your spouse can choose to put into trying to come to an informal settlement.  In theory, these efforts could continue for as long as necessary, but many partners eventually reach an impasse where they determine that they are unable to come to an agreement. If this occurs, you will likely need to consult with your legal counsel about the next options in moving your case forward and deciding if your goal remains trying to resolve things through settlement or if it is time to move to a litigation-focused process.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is often the logical next step if you are unable to come to a resolution through an informal settlement process. It allows you and your spouse to continue to build on the work you previously engaged in through the information settlement process but adds a trained mediator, generally a professional, familiar with how the court addresses issues to be able to give you and your spouse professional guidance, input and recommendations to resolve your case. 

Most mediation processes will involve you and your lawyer being in one room (or through video conferencing) while positioning your spouse and their attorney in another room. The mediator, generally a professional agreed to by both sides, will travel between the two groups to discuss areas of dispute, give input about possible resolution and try to help the parties find compromise. Mediators are given extensive training in conflict resolution and will be able to help find unique ways to solve issues and areas of compromise. 

If mediation is successful, both parties will ultimately sign a marital settlement agreement, also known as a Property settlement and separation agreement. This is sometimes prepared by the mediator, in other situations, one of the parties’ lawyers will prepare the agreement and the other party and his or her counsel will review it, present changes and then ultimately an agreed settlement document is developed. 

What is contained in a Marital separation agreement?

Generally there are several detailed topics that need to be addressed in a division of assets through a settlement agreement. Some of the areas that the parties will need to cover in their settlement agreement include, but are not limited to listing assets, determining which assets are marital and which are separate or non-marital in nature. Whether there has been marital misconduct and if so, how that behavior effects the division of the parties’ finances, how debts are to be divided, as well as who incurred the debts, how all assets should be divided and if any unique assets are involved that require special considerations. The special asset considerations can include such things as whether qualified domestic relations orders need to be prepared for retirement accounts, whether one spouse should keep the family home, whether there is a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement to address, whether there are gifts or inheritances that need to be considered, if a business is owed, how that is valued and divided and finally, whether there are any other significant assets including cars, boats, motorcycles, vacation homes, jewelry, collectibles, antiques, airplanes and family pets that need to be addressed.

After considerations of property division, a settlement agreement must plan for and account for maintenance, what used to be known as alimony to support a lesser-earning spouse, if needed or required. 

Beyond financial considerations between the parties, if children are involved, there is an even more lengthy list of things the spouses must come to an agreement on including custody, parenting time, child support, how holidays, summer time and other vacations are addressed, how various expense of the children are paid, how the children will be covered for medical/health insurance, whether the parents will be assisting with college expenses and if so, how, if there are special needs for the children or situations of abuse and/or neglect, how the children will be appropriately cared for and protected.

When should you enter into your property settlement and separation agreement?

If you have decided that resolving your divorce case through a settlement process is best, you must next decide the timing of when it is best for your family to enter into a settlement agreement. Some families come to a resolution before filing their divorce case, other families wait until after the filing of their case to begin settlement discussions. If you are waiting until after the filing of your case, again, some families begin immediate settlement negotiations and discussions, whereas other families wait and engage in discovery and other efforts in the case before deciding that the timing is appropriate to begin discussing settlement in earnest.

Why Should You Choose Collaborative Divorce?

If you and your spouse have many areas of disagreement and it seems insurmountable to come to a resolution, work closely with your lawyer to identify possible areas of  resolution, agreement and compromise. Ultimately, if needed, you can take your disagreements to a judge.  However, often a collaborative process offers many benefits. Some of the reasons parties may work toward a more collaborative divorce process include privacy, cost-efficiency, control and maintaining a better, more positive future co-parenting relationship. 

A collaborative divorce process does not have a set timeline and can go on as long as both parties deem necessary. It may take more than one day or session to reach an agreement, especially for more complicated situations with numerous assets, children, and other issues that the parties need to resolve.

Pingel Family Law is Your Partner in Collaborative Divorce

Let us At Pingel Family Law Help you Explore Your Options Today

Our Kansas City area alternative settlement methods lawyers at Pingel Family Law are committed to helping you explore every possible avenue of efficiently resolving your divorce case through settlement. We are compassionate to the difficulties your family faces as you move through the divorce process. Let us help you identify cost-effective solutions that will avoid a lot of the time, emotional costs and expense of a more contested divorce process.

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