Tonight's post about signing agreements in Family Law was written by
our Atlanta Divorce litigator extraordinaire, Cherese Clark.
Imagine this scenario: You're tired. Frustrated. Ready to get your
case over with. You've been litigating for over two years and now
you're ready to stop the fighting and bickering. To achieve this,
you simply put pen to paper and sign on the dotted line.
DONE...it is signed, filed. You throw the agreement into the stack of papers
in the back of your filing cabinet.
One year later, you and ex have a disagreement about exchanging your child
for parenting time which forces you to go back to the agreement you so
hurriedly signed just twelve months ago. You speed read, frantically looking
for the provision that resolves this custody issue only to discover that
you have signed an agreement that is more complicated and confusing than
helpful. Or, alternatively, you realize your agreement does not say what
you thought you had agreed to.
What do you do? Call an attorney? Yes, certainly. But there are a few things
that can be done before you sign agreements with no legal teeth or fail
to accurately memorialize the terms you think you have agreed to.
hire an attorney from the outset, even if it is simply to consult about your agreement. In the long run,
this will save you time and money you will spend to rehabilitate your
case when you want to "undo" your agreement.
Understanding the terms of your agreement are essential before you sign
your rights (or your child's life) away in an agreement. I have seen
many metro Atlanta clients represent themselves and enter rushed agreements
that lack legal teeth and are ultimately perhaps more confusing and detrimental
than remaining in the relationship they are trying to get out of.
Next, know your rights. It is very important to know what you are entitled
to before you agree to terms that may deprive you of what you would likely
be awarded if you just litigated the disputed issue.
Hiring counsel will help you achieve the likely outcome should you choose
to place a decision in the judge's hands rather than entering into
an agreement you will want to modify too soon down the road.
Last, read...read...read. Know exactly what you are signing. If there is
a provision that you do not understand, do not sign on the dotted line
until that language is clarified for both parties. A helpful approach
I frequently use is to explicitly give an example of the term applied
to hypothetical facts to ensure that all parties are on the same page.
In Fulton County, if a party is unrepresented in mediation (in family law
cases), he or she has a very limited time frame in which they may consult
with an attorney before the agreement becomes binding. Use that time!
Completely understanding your agreement and all the terms it contains will
save you money in the long run. Having an agreement with legal teeth helps
your attorney help you if there is ever a breach of the agreement or violation
of a court order. Stroking your signature on the dotted line could be
the difference between having full custody of your son or having only
illusory rights to your daughter.
Be very careful before you finally sign on that dotted line and remember-
"I didn't know" is not a valid defense.....ever.