Most divorce cases are often settled before the trial state. Settlement is reached either through informal negotiations or through the use of alternative dispute resolution process such as collaborative law or mediation. This Section contains information about settlement agreements.
If the spouses are able to negotiate and sort out all issues of the divorce either formally or by using any alternative dispute resolution process such as collaborative law or mediation, the terms of the settlement are converted into a written agreement. This agreement is known as the settlement agreement. The parties must file this agreement in the court where the divorce petition is filed. Generally the judge will hold an informal hearing and ask certain questions to the spouses to ensure that the spouses have voluntarily signed the agreement and understand the terms of the agreement. Once the judge is convinced that the agreement is fair to both spouses, the judge will approve the agreement.
Court Approval and Divorce Decree
Once the agreement is approved by the judge, the judge will sign the divorce decree thereby finalizing the divorce. The decree will specify how the issues have been resolved. The decree will list out the rights and obligations of the parties post divorce including:
• Children – custody, visitation and living arrangements
• Property – division of marital property, assets and debts
• Support – who pays support (alimony and child support) and how much
If the judge feels that one or more terms of the agreement is not fair or requires further negotiations, the spouses can continue to negotiate on those terms. If the spouses fail to reach a settlement on those issues, the case must go to trial.
Often the spouses may resolve most issues but some issues may remain unresolved. In such cases, the spouses can reach a partial settlement and the court will decide on the unresolved issues. For example if the spouses have reached a settlement on the issues of child custody & support and alimony but cannot decide on property division, then the court can approve the settlement on child custody & support and alimony and order that the issue of property division be decided through trial.