New Jersey Family Law Blog
Understanding Your Divorce Settlement Agreement
When a divorce is settled outside of a courtroom, be it through mediation, arbitration or through pre-trial negotiations, the divorcing couple is given the opportunity to add unique clauses and language to their Divorce Settlement Agreement (also refereed to as a Marital Settlement Agreement) in order to address issues and concerns specific to their unique situation.
While there are many benefits to resolving a divorce in such a manner, it is critical that the divorcing parties fully and completely understand the implications of any such additions to their Divorce Settlement Agreement. Of course, when it comes to understanding the “fine print” of your Marital Settlement Agreement, it is important to have an experienced Morris County divorce attorney on your side so that you:
- Negotiate for a settlement which accurately meets your unique needs and concerns, and
- Understand completely the terms and ramifications of whatever agreement you ultimately reach.
Unique Provisions within your Morris County Divorce Agreement
Part of the reason divorcing couples are encouraged to settle their divorce outside of a trial is that doing so allows the couple to negotiate for and agree upon terms which accurately reflect the unique situation of each party, as well as the family as a whole.
Marital Settlement Agreements (MSA’s) allow for the addition of language which, at times, can go above and beyond the letter of the law. This is especially true when it comes to financial matters such as the division of assets and alimony in particular (child support and child custody laws are more rigid in the State of New Jersey).
Unfortunately, this means that as long as these additions are unambiguous and agreed to by both parties, they can be enforceable in post-divorce proceedings even if one person or the other didn’t fully understand the implications of what they agreed to.
Below we discuss a recent example of such a scenario, but before doing so we must once again stress the importance of retaining experienced legal counsel during your divorce or even as part of the mediation process, and even more importantly, retaining legal counsel who will thoroughly understand and explain to you the implications of your MSA.
The Case of T.L.H. v M.H. and How Their MSA Affected NJ Cohabitation Laws
Madison, NJ Cohabitation Lawyers
NJ Cohabitation laws regard “cohabitation” as being any time two adults enter into a mutually financially beneficial relationship, i.e. adults do not need to be married in order for the courts to recognize that one adult, the other, or both are now financially benefiting from the relationship. Cohabitation plays a large role when it comes to the modification of alimony agreements after divorce due to the fact that an adult who is legally recognized to be “cohabitating” with another adult, and who is receiving alimony payments from a former spouse, often will no longer require the same level of financial support as they once did.
However, in the 2017 case of T.L.H. v. M.H., the divorcing couple agreed to special terms regarding how a potential future cohabitation of the wife would affect their alimony agreement. Specifically, their Divorce Settlement Agreement included language which defined cohabitation to also include any situation in which the wife lived with a family member, and not just as part of a romantic relationship as is the standard for NJ cohabitation laws.
When the wife moved in with her sister after the divorce, the husband filed a motion to modify their alimony agreement on the basis that the wife was now “cohabitating” with another adult. Under normal circumstances, this alimony modification request would most likely have been denied. However, thanks to the special language included within their Marital Settlement Agreement, and despite the wife being unaware of the implications of this language, the Trial Court in this case terminated the husband’s alimony obligations to his wife.
Upon appeal, the Appellate Division confirmed the Trial Court’s ruling, stating in part:
“..there were no compelling reasons to depart from the clear, unambiguous, and mutually understood terms of the MSA. The agreement was voluntary, knowing and consensual, and the alimony-termination event upon cohabitation was fair under the circumstances of the case.”
As you can see, even though NJ laws do not define cohabitation as an adult living with a family member, in this case the Trial Court was forced to recognize and uphold the modified definition of cohabitation thanks to the language included within the parties’ MSA. The Trial Court therefore modified the existing alimony agreement as a result.
Contact Our Morristown Divorce Attorneys Today
At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys have extensive experience helping clients and their families to draft, create and understand fair and situation-specific Divorce Settlement Agreements in towns across New Jersey and Morris County, including Madison, Morristown, Randolph, Morris Plains, East Hanover, Florham Park, Denville, Dover and more.
The unique approach of our law firm focuses on finding creative and constructive solutions to family law issues of all kinds, solutions which not only protect our clients’ unique needs and concerns, but also protect the financial and emotional stability of the entire family. We are able to provide this kind of legal service by favoring conflict-resolution methods such as negotiation, mediation, and arbitration, but we also understand that such methods cannot always succeed in every case, and as such are always prepared to go to trial if necessary in order to secure the rights and future of our clients.
To speak with our legal team today in a comprehensive and confidential case assessment regarding your divorce, any of its related issues such as child custody, child support, alimony or the division of assets, any kind of post-divorce modification or enforcement matter, or any other kind of family law issue including an appeal, please contact us online, or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 718-7705.