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Be Sure to Put it in Writing

Amy showed me the final written order, which consisted of a settlement agreement between the parties that was signed off by the judge. It clearly stated that she would get every other weekend, but she was now upset that she was indeed only getting every other weekend.

Amy cried, "He promised me that he would only get the kids every other weekend and that they would stay with me most of the time. We just wrote it that way so that the kids could list his address and they would get to stay in the same school. But now, I see his promises didn't mean anything."

Danny couldn't believe it. Suzy had promised him that if he gave her the house, she would never enforce child support. It was their agreement. Of course, courts don't like ordering no child support so her lawyer advised that they would need to put child support in the final divorce documents. Danny and Suzy just wanted to be divorced and go their separate ways. He gave her the house instead of fighting for his half of the equity. In exchange, she told him that she would never go after him when he didn't pay child support. Of course, that agreement was verbal and now Suzy is pretending like she never agreed to it.

Carrie just wanted the divorce to be over. She had moved out of their house, which would be sold shortly anyway. Alex told her that she could come back at any time to collect the rest of her furniture. At mediation, which had already lasted hours, she just agreed for the settlement documents to say that they already made an amicable division of their personal property and that she had already taken with her everything that belonged to her. After the divorce was finalized, she went to the home to collect her furniture, much of it heirlooms that had been passed down for generations. She arrived to an empty home. She called Alex, frantic. He coldly told her, "The Order said that you already retrieved your items. Everything you left behind is now mine and in my new home."

Sam made significantly more money than Georgia. If Georgia had primary custody, Sam would have to pay a lot in child support. Georgia was independent and she didn't want Sam's money anyway so she agreed that the paperwork would show him as the primary custodian and she knew he would be too proud to ever accept child support payments from her. If she would agree to this, then the divorce could be over more quickly. He had never been very involved with the kids so she just knew he wouldn't exercise that much visitation. But after the divorce, Sam re-married and he and his new wife exercised primary custody and they demanded that she pay the child support she was ordered to pay.

Family law cases are personal and so sometimes people forget how formal and how very binding they are. A court's written order will trump verbal promises every time. Fences build good neighbors, to be sure, but fences can also enclose and restrict. Make sure they are making good neighbors and only enclosing and restricting what you want cordoned off.

Ultimately, it is important to work with an attorney who knows what they are doing, who will protect your rights and will make sure to put those rights and what you actually agreed to, in writing.

Jennifer McCall

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