How to Reach a Truly Valuable Separation Agreement

Jul 21, 2009

A wise man once told me “If a man’s handshake is no good, neither is his signature.”

This a brilliantly succinct way of stating what many family law clients and lawyers ignore: An agreement is worth no more than the parties’ intent to live up to it.

Actually, this rule applies to all areas of the law, and all agreements. But, family lawyers and their clients are particularly susceptible to forgetting this rule because they become obsessed with “winning”. The winner quickly becomes the loser when they find themselves spending more money on attorneys to enforce a bad agreement. So, what can you do to ensure that the agreement that you reach in your case sticks? How do you avoid spending more time in court trying to make the other party do what they agreed to do? Focus on the following points, and your agreement will likely be honored by both parties:

1. Redefine “winning”: Family law cases are not a competition and your kids are not a trophy. Winning involves having your needs met, not denying the other party’s happiness. So, focus on finding solutions that meet your needs, and less on winning a battle of wills with your ex-spouse. It is a good thing if the other side gets what they want; as long as your needs are met as well.

2. Focus on meeting everybody’s needs: The bottom line is that if you are the only one that is happy about an agreement, then you are the only one that is going to live up to it. Having a piece of paper in your hand that says you won will not mean much if you have to spend more money to enforce it. You can try to beat down the other side, or strong arm them into an agreement. But, ultimately, if that agreement does not work for them, then they are not going to live up to it. And then you will have another trip to court on your calendar, and another batch of attorney bills in your mailbox. Having an agreement that both parties honor is the goal.

3. Be realistic about what you can and cannot live with: This keeps you from agreeing to something that you will not honor down the road. If you feel that you cannot live with some part of an agreement, you are probably right. It is better to let it be known while there is time to find a solution than end up in court later because you failed to meet an obligation.

4. Stay flexible: Keep your mind open to all possible solutions. Try not to rigidly adhere to a particular structure of an agreement. Force yourself and your attorney to really think about alternative means of meeting everybody’s goals. Every family is different, so every agreement will be different. Staying open to all solutions allows you to tailor an agreement to your particular family and situation. That in turn makes it easier for both parties to fulfill their obligations.

A common myth is that a good family lawyer can force the other side to agree to anything the client wants. In reality, a good family lawyer finds solutions that help clients agree to something that everybody can live with. By doing this, the lawyer saves clients untold amounts of time, money and stress trying to enforce worthless agreements.

Add to Technorati FavoritesIf you are interested in legal representation, please contact me by email or at (919) 781-1311. You can also find me at (this site currently being updated).

Please note that nothing on this blog should be considered legal advice and that viewing the information on this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. You are advised to consult with an attorney to confirm the current state of any legal information contained in this blog, as the law constantly changes.

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