If you have children or substantial assets, the entry of a final judgment of divorce does not end your case for the most part. Issues may still linger, motions may be filed, arguments may arise. The reason I say this is when you hire an experienced divorce or family law attorney, you have a better chance to limit problems in the future or at least mitigate them.
Attention to detail is one of the most important qualities a lawyer can have. While an accountant must pay attention to the numbers he or she inputs, a lawyer must carefully read or craft a marital settlement agreement so that issues do not arise in the future, and if they do, remedies are available without the absolute need of returning to court. For example, a client came into my office post-divorce. I did not represent him during the divorce. In the divorce agreement, he agreed to provide $300,000 in life insurance until his alimony obligation ended. Two problems here: first, he has a lifetime alimony obligation. Second, the divorce was completed over 10 years ago, and since then, he has been unable to obtain another life insurance policy because of his diminished health. The settlement agreement does not provide any language as to remedies if it became impossible to secure a life insurance policy at a future date or if the policy became too expensive.
As we all know, it is easier to say "I would have done this or that" after the fact. The truth of the matter is you cannot rush into a settlement agreement and you must be very careful as to what you agree to. One simple reason is you never know what can happen in the future and your lawyer should be thinking of ideas or language to help prepare for potential changes and setbacks.
Another example of something simple but that can cause major strife is when parents agree to pick-ups and drop-offs. At the time, the parties may live close by, they may have certain job duties, etc. What happens if one moves 30 miles or more away, then what? Must you file a motion? There should be language in the marital settlement agreement that foresees potential changes and what should be done without having to go to court.
Knowing what is expected of you and the other party is very important for your personal well-being. The unknown is usually what causes chaos and tension. Having certainty about child custody, child support, alimony, parenting time, tax deductions, asset division, the marital home, health care, etc., is critical to your well-being. Working with a divorce lawyer who will take the time to write and review a potential agreement and who will advise you accordingly, without rushing, is very important. That document (the marital settlement agreement) can have a lasting effect on your life. Do not leave things to chance and leave out important issues. Remember how you got here. Remember why a divorce or family court action was filed. It is usually a lack of communication or the inability to communicate effectively with one another.
The way to prevent future miscommunication is the effective writing of the terms of the settlement agreement. This will limit the communication between the parties and limit issues. While the time may come when you and the other party can actually speak respectfully to one another, as of now, you must always prepare for the worst. Your spouse or the other parent may re-marry, start dating, etc., and then you have another voice to contend with when issues arise. Take the time and money to hire the right attorney, and some of the divorce stress will be reduced and your post-divorce life will be much better.
Written by Hudson County Divorce Lawyer Santo V. Artusa, Jr., who focuses on divorce and family law issues throughout New Jersey.