Agreements in Family Law

Parties are often encouraged to try to reach an agreement to resolve whatever issues have arisen in any legal matter. In family law, agreements are especially encouraged due to the personal nature of the issues at hand along with the belief that it is better for the parties to draft their own agreement rather than allow a stranger to dictate their family dynamics going forward. Most agreements in family law will be treated as any contract would and the parties will be obligated to comply with the provisions or face an action for contempt. The family court will retain jurisdiction over all agreements entered that are subsequently submitted to the court to be made an order. As with any contract the court is generally only concerned that the agreement was entered into voluntarily and knowingly. The court will not necessarily be reviewing the content of the agreement before allowing it to become an order of court.

If a provision of the agreement needs to be enforced and one party seeks the court’s help in pursuing contempt, at that point the court would need to examine the content of the agreement in order to make a decision on a resolution of the contempt. Many agreements will include a provision that the party who breaches the agreement will be responsible for attorney fees if contempt must be sought through the court to gain compliance. The most comprehensive agreement in a family law matter is a marital or property settlement agreement. This type of agreement sets out to resolve all issues in a divorce matter including, but not limited to, how the divorce will be proceed to finalization, division of property, child and spousal support and/or alimony, and custody. One provision that will not hold up in court even if the parties agreed to it is the waiver of child support. The PA Supreme Court ruled in Knorr v. Knorr, decided in 1991, that a parent may not contract away a child’s right to support as the court views child support as an entitlement of the child rather than the parents.

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