The Benefits (and, Sometimes, Drawbacks) of Marital Settlement Agreements

Settlement agreements can be very helpful tools in resolving some or all of the outstanding issues in your Maryland divorce case. Settlement agreements can help you reduce the time and money spent on litigation, as well as potentially reduce lingering hostility with your spouse that can accompany prolonged litigation. One of the keys to achieving a successful result through an agreement of this nature, though, is making sure that you understand exactly what you’re agreeing to, and that those terms really do meet your needs. To make sure that you are getting the outcome that best helps your family, whether through litigation or settlement, be sure you have a skilled Maryland family law attorney on your side.

The divorce of J.M. and L.M. was a case that represents an example of a settlement agreement scenario gone wrong, at least from the husband’s perspective. The pair had one child, a daughter, in 2010. In October 2016, the wife filed for divorce. The couple reached a mutual agreement on child support and child custody. The agreement stated that the pair would share joint custody and also laid out the exact amount of child support the father would owe each month.

After the court entered the judgment that finalized the couple’s divorce, the father sought to have the judgment thrown out. Specifically, he complained that the amount of child support that he was now obligated to pay was not “legally correct” and represented an upward deviation of some 565%.

The trial court and later, the appeals court, ruled against the father. The facts underlying how the couple’s judgment came to exist simply didn’t support the father’s position. The father contended that the terms of the agreement related to child support were things he did not agree to. However, the agreement came to exist as a result of several exchanges between his attorney and the mother’s attorney.

Additionally, and perhaps more damaging in terms of the father’s appeal argument, during the final divorce hearing, the mother’s attorney read the terms of the agreement in open court and, after those terms were read, the father was placed on the witness stand. On the stand, the trial judge asked him if he heard “the agreement that was placed on the record,” to which the father replied yes. The judge then asked the father if he agreed to the terms of the agreement, to which the father again answered in the affirmative. Finally, the judge asked the father if he was “satisfied with the terms of the agreement,” to which the father once more replied yes.

At no point during the hearing did the father object to any term of the agreement, including the child support provision. That lack of any objection, along with the responses the father gave to the judge when he was asked about the agreement on the stand, was enough to show that the father had knowingly and voluntarily consented to the terms of the agreement, including specifically agreeing to the child support portion of that agreement.

Settlement can possibly be a wise way forward in divorce. However, just like any contract, it is important to know what you’re getting into before you sign off on your marital settlement agreement. To ensure you are making the best choice for your family, retain knowledgeable counsel. Experienced Maryland family law attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been helping Maryland spouses and parents for many years and is ready to assist you. To find out how we can help you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Children’s Extracurricular Activities and Child Support Obligations in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 13, 2018

Father’s Ill-Timed Appeal Costs Him in His Maryland Child Support Modification Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 30, 2018

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