If you are officially divorced, you might feel as though you crossed the finish line in the longest race of your life. Go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief. You earned it.
But no matter how skilled your lawyer was, how involved a client you were, and how careful you (and hopefully your ex-spouse) are to abide by your current divorce agreement, issues sometimes arise that you must address post-judgment. Nobody wants to think about the possibility of that happening but, the reality is, it can. Preparing for the likelihood can be helpful not only regarding how to proceed with an inquiry but also for educating yourself about what your chance of success will be.
The Best Divorce Judgments Are Comprehensive And Flexible
Of course, the best way to avoid your lawyer’s office after a divorce is to account for as much as possible in your agreement before it. That means communicating with your lawyer any concerns you may have about your present lifestyle as well as your future one. Your lawyer can only foresee so much, which makes the responsibility also your own to inform him or her of any unusual circumstances particular to your case. The goal is to be as inclusive as you can – with one caveat.
While you want to make sure an agreement is “airtight” and includes as many scenarios as possible, there is such a thing as a document that is too airtight. An excessively narrow agreement can set even the most well-meaning ex-spouses up to fail because the more you regulate your lives, the higher the risk you each are at for violating your agreement. At a minimum, that presents the question of whether a simple trip up is enough to subject the offender to court sanctions and whether it is worth it for you to pursue a remedy. The answer isn’t always clear.
Parenting Rules Should Provide Flexibility
Financial Rules Should Be Firm
Consider, for example, how you and the other parent exchange your children. If you place a burdensome number of rules around how each exchange is supposed to occur, such as limiting the number of texts each parent can send and the exact location where pick-up and drop-off must occur, the possibility for violation increases. With more violations come more conflicts and, over time, rifts tend to deepen. Often, the only solution is a return to court, which can be aggravating, time-consuming, costly, and not always effective in yielding the outcome you want.
Financial entanglement can become a slippery slope as well. It is not uncommon for an agreement to specify that one parent must tender proof of payment of an expense within a set timeframe, say 14 days. What happens, however, if one parent sends the invoice to the other parent a day late? Is repayment still required?
In Illinois, for instance, family law courts are courts of equity and judges have wide latitude to decide what is fair under the circumstances. They also may strictly enforce an order if they choose to. To avoid entering the court system over such a small infraction, assuming it is not habitual, I would advise a client to still tender payment on day 15. Some battles are simply not worth fighting, and a lawyer who is interested in his or her client’s best interests will not jump at any and every opportunity to litigate.
No matter how hard you and your attorney try, returning to court is, at other times, unavoidable. For post-judgment success, it is important to maintain accurate records from the get go, even if you think you will never need to call on them. The reality is you may have to.
Just as you believed you would never hire a divorce lawyer, you may erroneously believe you will never require a court to intervene in your case again. The good news is both your lawyer and the legal system are always here for you.