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Resolving Disputes About the Settlement Agreement

The majority of divorces are resolved pursuant to a settlement agreement.  This means that the parties negotiated all issues of the divorce and were able to come to an agreement that both parties could live with.  It does not mean that everyone is completely happy with the outcome, but they are likely happier than they would be if a Judge dictated the terms of the divorce.  Nonetheless, the parties have signed the agreement and are ready to abide by its terms.  But what happens if there is a dispute about whether a party is fully performing under the agreement?

If a party is in default under the agreement, the other party can file a Petition for Contempt, which will bring the alleged violation in front of the court in an effort to force the party to comply.  Punishment for contempt can range from license revocation to incarceration.  However, filing a Petition for Contempt is often not the best first step to address a violation of the settlement agreement.  Rather, the party should first reach out to the other party (through attorneys or directly, as appropriate) and attempt to resolve the matter without involving the courts.  Often, a disagreement about performance under the settlement agreement is caused by a miscommunication that could be easily resolved without costing both parties money with an unnecessary court battle. If negotiation does not work, however, a Petition for Contempt may be your only option.

If you think that your spouse is going to have a difficult time abiding by the terms of the settlement agreement, you could put language into the agreement addressing that very issue.  For example, the agreement could require the defaulting party to pay for all associated costs and attorney’s fees associated with the other party’s successful enforcement of the agreement.  This means that if one party defaults and the other party files an ultimately successful Petition for Contempt, the defaulting party is automatically required to pay attorney’s fees.

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