Not every divorce is or must be a conflict-filled process. It is not unusual for a client to suggest that the parties are amicable, they have an idea of how they would like to divide their assets and debts, and they are already dividing time with their children comfortably. They may ask, “Can’t we just skip ahead to asking the Court to approve what we have in mind, save a lot of time and money, and get our divorce decree?” The answer, like most legal questions, is nuanced.
A court will generally not approve a settlement agreement and issue a decree dissolving the marriage unless it receives, among other things, but most critically: (1) a settlement agreement signed by the parties (known as a separation agreement); and (2) a parenting plan signed by the parties (if there are minor children of the marriage). These written items can be prepared and signed by the parties before or after the divorce action has been filed, but the court must approve them and find that they are fair (from the judge’s perspective). The Court is not permitted to issue the Decree approving the parties’ agreements and dissolving the marriage before at least 91 days have passed since the commencement of the court case.
In order to find a settlement by which the parties divide their assets and debts in an agreed upon manner, and including or waiving child support and maintenance (which used to be known as alimony), the court must be persuaded from the documents filed with the court that the parties have made adequate disclosure of their incomes, assets and debts to one another, usually through the exchange of sworn financial statements and disclosures required under the court’s procedural rules. This is where things can get tricky. Parties and their counsel may not be comfortable with the disclosures that have been made and the values ascribed by the parties to the incomes, assets and debts. More records may need to be reviewed and exchanged, particularly if a spouse does not have the same access the other does. And valuations may be needed if there are disagreements.
If you think you may have an idea of how you might settle and expedite your divorce, you may still wish to consult an attorney to better understand your rights, what you may be giving up, and how you might better protect yourself while pursing the goal of completing the process as quicky and cost-effectively as possible. The lawyers at The Harris Law Firm are here to help. Give us a call.