So your agreement is signed and approved by a judge who declared you single – you leave the courthouse thankful that you will never step foot in it again. Unfortunately, many divorced couples find themselves back in family court for a variety of reasons. A large part of my practice consists of post judgment contempt matters and modification of custody arrangements. I find, more often than not, that these matters can be more adversarial and more costly to my clients than the divorce itself. There are some simple ways to avoid unnecessary conflict when facing post-divorce issues:
- The simplest way to avoid post-divorce issues is to head them off at the pass. Many post-divorce conflicts arise because the separation agreement is vague or open ended. For example, a parenting plan may not provide for a Holiday or vacation schedule or perhaps the marital residence is to be sold, but the property settlement does not provide for a time limit. A skilled family law professional can help you draft an agreement that is unambiguous, perhaps avoiding a return to court.
- Communicate with your ex-spouse if at all possible. There are many matters that can be handled without court involvement. This is especially true when it comes to co-parenting through the changing needs of children. A parenting plan written when children are young may need adjustment as they get older. It is not necessary or cost effective to head to court for small changes in the schedule. Caveat: some modifications, such as changes in child support, require court approval.
- Understand and live up to your responsibilities. At your divorce hearing, the judge asked you if you understood your agreement. See #1. If you do understand your divorce agreement and willfully avoid your responsibilities under it, you are in contempt of court. More often than not, one or both parties must take affirmation action to effectuate property settlements such as title transfers or QDRO drafting.
- Speak with a family law attorney before filing a post judgment motion. There are many post judgment matters that cannot or should not be litigated. The most common of these is an attempt to modify a property settlement.
- Try mediation or a collaborative approach. Non adversarial methods are not only for the negotiation of divorce settlements. Avoiding litigation for any type of family matter is almost always more cost effective and less emotionally draining. It is also true that agreements reached in a mediated or collaborative environment will be less prone to future conflict.