When it comes to family law matters that arise when couples decide to divorce—such as property division, alimony, child custody, and child support—there are several scenarios in which a resolution can be reached. This includes: (1) abiding by an existing prenuptial or postnuptial agreement; (2) reaching a separation agreement; or (3) filing a lawsuit and asking a court to issue an order resolving the issues. Further, even when filing a lawsuit, the parties can reach an agreement for the court’s approval before the matter actually goes to trial.
In North Carolina and across the country, it is far more common for couples to reach some form of agreement than to take issues to trial. This is because lawsuits and prolonged legal battles are incredibly expensive, as are the trials themselves. In fact, courts prefer it when people reach agreements regarding divorce-related matters and child custody. Not only are agreements a more amicable means of resolving cases, but they provide a result that is less likely to see appeals and challenges. In addition, it saves courts an incredible amount of time and money.
But as much as courts want to encourage and enforce agreements, there are circumstances when a court will say no.
An Unenforceable Agreement
Prenuptial and separation agreements are legally binding contracts that can address property division, spousal support, child support, and child custody. If one party violates the agreement, then the other party can file a lawsuit for breach of contract to enforce the order. While courts generally enforce the terms of these agreements, there are circumstances in which a court will refuse to enforce an agreement.
For example, parties cannot agree to break the law or reach an agreement that violates the law. Further, while it is presumed that agreements are reached for proper purposes, courts will not enforce an agreement if it violates public policy or is unconscionable. In other words, is the agreement completely one-sided with no reasonable explanation? Courts are especially sensitive if there is a massive wealth and power discrepancy in the relationship.
In addition, agreements cannot prohibit a court from addressing child custody or child support issues in the future. Child support and child custody matters are always open to modification, so an agreement cannot limit a court’s ability to revisit these issues in the future.
Rejecting a Agreement Prior to Trial
Similarly, when parties to a lawsuit involving property division, alimony, and/or child custody issues, courts are generally inclined to grant these agreements. This is, of course, unless the agreement is lopsided and unconscionable, or that no reasonable person would have entered into such an agreement. In addition, when it comes to child custody matters, the courts have a duty to the best interest of the children. If courts find that an agreement is not in the child’s best interest, then it will not approve the agreement. At this point, the parties will either need to negotiate a new agreement or proceed to trial.
New Direction Family Law
If you are in the midst of a separation, divorce, or child custody dispute, you need professional help. The legal team at New Direction Family Law is intelligent, experienced, and effective. We know that you are at a crossroads in your life and need help moving forward. Let us help you. We serve Wake, Johnston, Durham and surrounding counties. Contact New Direction Family Law at (919) 719-3470 to schedule an appointment with an attorney or reach us online through our website.
Sarah J. Hink
New Direction Family Law