The Importance Of Language And Detail In Divorce Decrees Or Orders


Rosemary Rizk, Contributing Author

We have all heard the expression “the devil is in the details,” and I will tell you that saying is even truer when you are going through a divorce or abiding by orders post-divorce.

My rule of thumb for writing a decree or orders is that if you are ever in doubt, the more detail the better.

If I had a dime for the number of times I have heard a client say, “We will work out the parenting time on our own,” and “Just put in language that says ‘parenting time shall be as agreed upon between the parties,’” or “Holidays shall be agreed upon between the parties,” I would be one wealthy divorce attorney!

While you may be agreeable now, there is absolutely no guarantee you will be agreeing with your soon-to-be-ex in the future.

Let me stick with this same example:

You and your new wife want to go out of state for half of the children’s Christmas Break. For the past three years, your ex-wife has always permitted this travel, but that was before you tied the knot with another women.

Your agreement says, “The parties agree to share a 50/50 parenting time schedule, for which they will each put forth a good faith effort to follow as much as possible. The schedule for the holidays will be as agreed upon between the parties.”

First of all bad, bad, bad language! Second of all, you essentially have an agreement that says you agree to agree, but what happens if you disagree?

You have no safety net now and no solid language to rely upon or enforce through the courts.

It is always better to have specific language then to have very vague or general language. Remember, you can always agree to change something, but if you don’t have specific language, how can you enforce compliance with your agreements or orders of the court?

The answer is simple: either you can’t, or it will be extremely difficult to do so.

Another example is you and your wife have agreed to split your 401(k) equally (50/50), which seems like a fair and clear agreement. But when does this take effect?

The law in every state can vary on this. Do you use the amount as of the date you signed the agreement, or as of the date your decree of dissolution of marriage enters or how about the date the plan distributes the funds?

While this may appear on the surface to be as clear as day, you can quickly see the muddying up of the waters.

If there is a loophole or vagueness in the language used to write your decree or court orders, you can be sure that it will be exposed by opposing counsel, especially if your ex-wife will benefit.

The importance is in the Details! Details! Details!

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