I've often been asked for some quick tips on how to avoid some of the uncertainties when you're in the final stages of a divorce negotiation. While there is no handy check-list that will protect you against any unforeseen circumstances, it's important to remember that this agreement will be legally binding for you and your soon to be Ex for many years into the future. So it's worthwhile considering these main factors:
Watch out for Ambiguous Terminology.
A common example of ambiguous terminology that can cause future difficulties is- "the ability of the parties to pay." Your ex-spouse may claim poverty or loss of employment just before the college tuition or camp bill is due. If they have no liquid assets to help pay these expenses, you may be forced to pay the entire bill! Be specific when it comes to how medical bills or extra curricular activities should be shared. Use percentages and dollar limits so that precise calculations can be made.
Clearly Define Emancipation.
What age do your children have to reach before child support payments end? Should there be payment adjustments for children attending college or not living with the custodial parent? Do you need to look at extended payments for children with special needs?
What Expenses do Child Support Payments Cover?
Generally, they apply to the "big three"- food, clothing and shelter. Camp, child care, braces, unreimbursed medical expenses, special religious celebrations, weddings, vacations-all are just a few of the many expenses that fall outside the "big three". If you do not address these other expenses, you may quickly find yourself paying for things you never expected.
How Do You Defend Your Agreements?
Often, once legally binding agreements are made one party may end up not living up to what they agreed. What will you do to enforce your agreement when your ex-spouse refuses to reimburse you for a few thousand dollars of medical expenses? Filing legal motions are costly, time consuming, and usually invite counter claims. Having your agreements state that the "non-complying party" bear all legal costs relating to the enforcement of your agreement may prove very effective in convincing your ex to live up to his/her responsibilities.
I'll take the time to make sure you fully understand the agreement before you sign off on it. I always like to discuss my clients' life style and expectations. I understand that your children's needs change from year to year and usually require more cash outlays as they get older. The hot topics outlined above can help assist you in avoiding an "unhealthy divorce agreement."