What Are the Key Components That Should Be Included In A Stipulation Of Settlement Agreement For Divorce Case In New York State?
When creating a settlement agreement for divorce in New York, it’s essential to be comprehensive. Below, you can find a list of the main considerations that will need your attention, along with information about the intricacies of each issue.
In the context of this conversation, we’ll define property as co-ops, condos, plots of land, houses, etc. The main issue you will want to address in your settlement agreement is whether the title is going to be changed or you are choosing to defer the issue and, if so, for how long.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen some agreements that only specify that the parties agree to eventually sell the house – but it doesn’t set a date. This creates a problem because if the issue is left open-ended, it’s very hard to enforce when one party wants to sell, if there’s going to be a buyout, or when the buyout should occur. As such, it’s crucial to address all of that.
Next, you’ll want to address this question: Who’s going to pay all of the expenses in regard to the property pending that sale or buyout? Agreements that don’t include provisions to this end can cause major issues.
For example, consider what could happen when it comes time to pay property taxes. If you are living in the house and expect your ex-spouse to chip in for half of the tax obligation only to find out that they never had an intention of doing so, you may find yourself in a financial bind.
Personal Property & Financial Assets
In your agreement, it’s crucial to address every single bank account – regardless of whether it’s a joint or “sole” bank account. Why is this so important? Because people often don’t realize that their ex-spouse’s name is on their account as an authorized user. If your settlement agreement does not address that each party will agree to remove each other’s names as authorized users, you leave a hole open for noncooperation and disagreements later down the road.
Investment Accounts & Retirement Accounts
It’s important to address the disposition of all investment accounts and retirement accounts. For example, if there’s going to be a qualified domestic relations order (“QDRO”) in the retirement account context, you need provisions to address questions like: Who’s paying for that? When is it being submitted?
Sometimes it’s advisable to even agree on the QDRO drafting service the parties are going to use so they can hit the ground running after the judgment is signed to make sure these important steps are addressed as soon as possible.
Matters Related to The Kids
If there are children involved, there are three main areas of consideration: custody, visitation, and child support. It’s important to remember here that the more specific you are, the less likely there’s going to be a disagreement down the road.
This is particularly true in high-conflict cases, where you’ll want to have a very lengthy agreement that spells out every aspect of how decisions get made and provides a game plan of what is going to happen in the event of a disagreement. It’s even better if you can include a time frame on when these issues must be resolved.
For example, if you choose to use the professional model on joint custody – where you will defer to the recommendation of a professional on certain decisions which come up in a child’s life – you’ll want to set a deadline for which the other side must respond to the email that proposes the decision.
To do this, you would include a provision in your settlement agreement that says something to the effect of this: “If either parent does not respond to the issue within three days of a triggering email, they waive their right to that decision automatically.”
What’s more, most parents in high-conflict cases are well-advised to use co-parenting apps like Our Family Wizard, Talking Parents, or 2 Houses to facilitate communication. Then, you’ll want your agreement to specifically address how these apps will be used, who’s going to pay for the app, and more.
In fact, Our Family Wizard even offers suggested language that can be included in the settlement agreement itself to address all the specific details regarding the implementation and use of the Our Family Wizard app in joint custody cases.
Child Support “Add-Ons”
When it comes to child support, you’ll need to address all sorts of issues – not only basic child support, but all the add-ons, as well. These “add-ons” can include things like unreimbursed medical care, unreimbursed childcare, unreimbursed education costs, and more.
It’s important to spell this out in your agreement so neither party can say, “Well, I don’t consider eyeglasses to be a medical expense.” Of course, optometric care does typically fall under the rubric of “medical.” However, some people – and especially those in high conflict cases – may try to backtrack on any added costs which comes up later.
For this reason, you should include specific examples of any additional cost related to child support, including, but not limited to cosmetic surgeries, nose rings, earrings, piercings, and whatever else you might want to address.
Your divorce settlement agreement should not only dictate who pays for your child’s extracurricular activities, but also who transports the child to and from these activities. Additionally, if there’s a proposed activity for the child, it’s advisable for the parents to agree not to discuss the proposed activity with the children during the decision-making process until the parents have reached an agreement on whether the activity is appropriate.
When incorporating a parent coordinator into a joint custody agreement, it’s important to have specific language in your agreement addressing this. In New York, I suggest visiting the court system website – https://www.nycourts.gov/LegacyPDFS/courts/8jd/pdfs/parentcoord/PC_Stip_Order_on_Consent_rev_12-06.pdf. When I’m incorporating a parent coordinator, I use the language from the model order provided on the court website for the implementation of a parent coordinator and then adjust the language to fit the particular circumstances of each case.
If you’re including alimony in your settlement agreement, you’ll need to address all sorts of questions, including: How will the alimony arrangement work? When is it going to end? Under what circumstances, if ever, can it be modified up or down? When, if ever, can it be terminated?
It’s highly recommended for each parent to carry a life insurance policy that will at least cover their portion of basic child support. As such, you’ll want to address whether each parent will carry a life insurance policy and, if so, for how much.
For example, you could choose to hold a policy that only covers the basics, or one that accounts for specific child support “add-ons”, such as costs associated with private school, college contributions, and more.
Finally, you can add a provision allowing you to “step down” life insurance arrangement. This way, your life insurance obligation can be reduced as your children get older.
As you can see, there are many different considerations when it comes to the key elements of a divorce settlement agreement in New York. At the end of the day, this comes down to the fact that you’ll want to craft your divorce settlement agreements to address every conceivable issue that may come up so that you don’t invite lawyers back into your life later down the road.
For more information on Key Elements of a Divorce Settlement Agreement, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (914) 362-3080 today.