Florida favors settlement agreements of family law disputes. Parents may agree to take on obligations based on future events. That’s true even if a court otherwise couldn’t impose those obligations. This power parents have in collaborative divorce to make agreements makes collaborative special.
Purpose of Florida’s Divorce Statute Includes Promoting Settlement
Since July 1, 1971, the purposes of the dissolution of marriage statute haven’t changed. For 50 years, the purposes of Florida’s divorce statute have been:
(a) To preserve the integrity of marriage and to safeguard meaningful family relationships;
(b) To promote the amicable settlement of disputes that arise between parties to a marriage; and
(c) To mitigate the potential harm to the spouses and their children caused by the process of legal dissolution of marriage.
See 61.001(2), Florida Statutes.
Florida Favors Settlement
Florida law highly favors settlement agreements. Griffith v. Griffith, 860 So. 2d 1069, 1073 (Fla. 1st DCA 2003); Chovan v. Chovan, 90 So. 3d 898, 900-01 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012).
Separation agreements executed by husband and wife prior to divorce usually provide for payment to the wife of support or alimony; for support and custody of children; and for settlement of property rights existing between the parties. When such agreements are fairly entered into and are not tainted by fraud, overreaching or concealment, they will be respected by the courts.
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Provisions of a separation agreement or final decree relating to the support, care and custody of children are always subject to review and approval by the court, the guiding star being the best interest and welfare of the children.Sedell v. Sedell, 100 So. 2d 639, 642 (Fla. 1st DCA 1958).
Parents May Agree to Obligations a Court Could Not Otherwise Order
Marital settlement agreements are construed the same as any other contract. Taylor v. Lutz, 134 So. 3d 1146, 1148 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014). Parties can contract to terms and conditions in agreements a court can’t order.
“It is well-settled in dissolution of marriage proceedings that the parties may enter into settlement agreements imposing obligations the trial court could not otherwise impose under the applicable statutes.”Herbst v. Herbst, 153 So. 3d 290, 292 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014) (citing Taylor, 134 So. 3d at 1148)).
See also Bingemann v. Bingemann, 551 So.2d 1228 (Fla. 1st DCA 1989) (finding parties assumed the enforceable contractual obligation to pay college expenses for their child beyond emancipation).
Parents may agree to assume obligations a court couldn’t impose if they didn’t agree. This inability doesn’t make their agreements unenforceable.
Examples appear in case law. See Winset v. Fine, 565 So.2d 794 (Fla. 3d DCA 1990) (When parties to a dissolution proceeding agree to educate their child after the child reaches age of majority, the agreement is valid and may be enforced); Kern v. Kern, 360 So.2d 482, 486, n. 6 (Fla.4th DCA 1978) (“Nothing in this opinion should be construed as limiting the power of a court to enforce a stipulated-to agreement between the parties in a dissolution proceeding.”); Holmes v. Holmes, 384 So.2d 1295 (Fla. 2d DCA 1980) (enforcing parents’ agreement to provide a college education, even though their son had reached majority).
Opportunity to Be Creative and Flexible in Collaborative Divorce
In collaborative divorce, you and the other parent may consider specifying future events and milestones reasonably certain to occur. You may make creative and flexible agreements about changes when such events happen. What about for events not reasonably certain to occur? Consider agreeing to alternative dispute resolution, when such events occur, if you can’t agree on how things should change. For example, you might agree to return to the collaborative process or go to mediation.