Separation Agreements –An Annual Read Through is a Must!

lorisa stein separation agreementsMany former spouses signalled the end of their relationship with a negotiated separation agreement. The journey from date of separation to the signed agreement may have spawned a few months to a couple of years.  Whether they were wise to retain legal counsel or perhaps we’re not able to do so, each would have been embroiled in digesting financial statements, gathering their own documents for disclosure, and trying to predict what needed to go into the document to satisfactorily deal with future events.

The finished disclosure brief? We’re not talking about a few pages; rather typically a bound printed volume (s) or cloud-based folder with pages of bank statements, tax returns, and pension and business valuations. Making sense of an aggregate of inconsistencies or rationalizing future university expenses for a young child dreaming of becoming a lawyer was slow and tedious work.

The annual pattern of a short discussion agreeing to no change to the support payments or to simply make a temporary adjustment for a child’s medical needs wouldn’t necessarily require pulling out the original domestic agreement. Skipping forward a handful of years when a material change in income occurs will abruptly halt the pattern particularly for the support recipient. A quick text to the other notifying them of a significant income change is not enough. A complete review of each other’s current financial circumstances is what must be done.

What was an intimate knowledge of the mechanics and roles enumerated in the contract has, with the passage of time, now dissipated? The steps robustly followed in those first years after the conclusion of the negotiations have now faded to a quick let’s get it done routine.

When I ask a client to recall for me the provisions in the separation agreement relating to a child support review of the table amount of support, there’s an audible sign and a long pause. “Not sure” is the common answer.

Like remembering to change the fire alarm batteries on your birthday, remembering the celebration wins hands down. Review the separation agreement doesn’t happen often enough.  How the former spouses recall parts of the agreement over the years has often nothing in common with the printed word in the signed original.

Bottom Line: Every year pull out the separation agreement and read it thoroughly. Mark up the copy of the original and add a table of contents to your copy as an aide memoir and to find related topics easily. You may be surprised to see that steps are already included in the agreement when support change needs to be renegotiated. If in doubt, call your family law lawyer and ask questions. Better to have taken a few minutes to read your signed agreement than to initiate a costly process that could easily have been avoided.

For a, or consultation to review the meaning of the terms of your signed Separation Agreement or another domestic contract, please contact Lorisa Stein directly.