Common Questions About Divorce Settlement Agreements

Couple's Hand With Divorce Agreement And Wedding Rings

A common misconception about divorce is that at the end of an adversarial divorce trial, a judge issues an order and decree, setting forth the terms of your divorce. In reality, you probably won’t have a trial at all. The vast majority of divorces, like most other types of civil litigation in North Dakota, are settled before trial. The spouses more often than not reach an agreement about the terms of their divorce and execute a written divorce settlement agreement. 

Divorce attorneys work with divorce settlement agreements every day—but people who are thinking about getting divorced may not be familiar with them. Here are several of the most common questions we hear about settlement agreements.

What is a Divorce Settlement Agreement?

In the simplest terms, a divorce settlement agreement is a written contract between you and your spouse that describes how you’ve decided to resolve issues in your divorce. Typical issues include:

Depending on your situation, your agreement can also cover other details, including how the children will be educated, who pays for extracurricular activities, and what religion children will be raised in. It might also address matters such as whether one spouse will continue on the other’s health insurance. Divorce settlement agreements should be specific enough to give meaningful guidance, but flexible enough to work with real-life contingencies.

What if My Spouse and I Can’t Agree on Everything?

Some lucky couples agree on the terms of their divorce with minimal conflict or without outside help. But most people get hung up on at least some issues and need a little help. There are a number of ways you can get over disagreements and reach resolution. 

Many people negotiate disputed issues with the help of their attorneys. You and your spouse might sit down with your lawyers and discuss the issues back and forth until you reach an agreement. You might also try divorce mediation, in which a neutral, trained mediator helps you and your spouse talk about your interests and needs and identify resolutions that work for you both. The mediator isn’t a judge or a therapist; he or she is there to help you identify issues and to facilitate discussion.

Do I Have to Have a Lawyer for a Divorce Settlement?

You and your spouse might be able to reach agreement on all the issues in your divorce together. Even if you do, though, you should probably still have a lawyer. A lawyer can draw up your agreement in a way that complies with the law and includes everything it needs to for your divorce. 

It’s possible that your spouse will offer to hire a lawyer to draw up your agreement. That’s fine; just remember that your spouse’s lawyer works for them, not for you. If there is something in the agreement that favors your spouse, and you don’t catch it, you could be stuck living with it. You should at least hire a lawyer to review the settlement agreement to make sure that it reflects your understanding of the agreement before you sign it. 

If I Sign a Divorce Settlement Agreement, Do I Still Have to Go to Court?

No, not likely. While your divorce settlement agreement is not a court order, you will have your attorney prepare and file along with the signed settlement agreement a document titled the “Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order for Entry of Judgment” which the judge will sign. Based on the Order, the county clerk of court will enter the Judgment and Decree, another separate document prepared  by your attorney and filed simultaneously with the signed settlement agreement.  

If the  judge has questions or concerns about the contents of your agreement, he or she may choose to schedule a hearing you and your spouse will have to attend and at that hearing, may ask you and your spouse some questions about the agreement. Once the judge is satisfied that the agreement is fair and reasonable and complies with applicable law, he or she will sign the order, the clerk enters the Judgment and Decree, and  your divorce will be final and legally binding on both you and your now ex-spouse. 

If you have questions about North Dakota divorce settlement agreements or how to get a divorce in North Dakota, we invite you to contact Fremstad Law to schedule a consultation.