Can my spouse be forced to sign the settlement agreement?

Divorce is tough for everyone who goes through it. It is natural for the adults to feel that their trust has been shattered. The children are fraught with worry over losing a parent. You may find yourself in a situation where you think that the person you were once in love with will not be on the same page as you ever again. But before you consider coercing your partner into signing a settlement agreement, you should understand what exactly a settlement agreement entails and what happens if your spouse refuses to sign it.

What Is a Settlement Agreement? A settlement agreement counts as the attempt that divorcing adults make in order to agree on the parental and financial terms of their marriage. These terms may include the following:

  • Division of assets and liabilities
  • Spousal support
  • Parenting plans
  • Child support

Consenting Adults: If both parties have arrived at a consensus regarding the terms of the settlement agreement, the court generally approves of the agreement the way it is, considering it covers all the important issues deemed necessary by court. As a result the legal fee remains fairly nominal and the broken family is subjected to no undue stress. But the settlement becomes legally binding only once it is approved by the court. This naturally means that even if you force your spouse to sign the settlement today, he or she could change their mind when wished, right until the settlement gets approved by a judge.

While the advantage of drawing a settlement agreement is that it can minimize the legal costs, time of the divorce process and even the tension between disgruntled spouses, it can be quite tough for the two divorcing adults to come to a compromise on matters of importance. But this does not mean that the world ends here. You can still go to court and the judge will decide your terms instead. No one can force your spouse to sign a settlement agreement, not even the presiding judge. The spouse has every right to contest the terms of the settlement in full or in part. If a compromise cannot be reached, your last resort may be to prepare for trial.

Alternatives to a Trial: You must consider alternatives like professional mediation or arbitration before giving up and deciding to go to trial. A mediator will sit with both the parties and attempt to bring them to a compromise that suits everyone involved. For instance, if your spouse demands to keep the house, the mediator could convince him to compensate by taking on a bigger portion of the marital debt. It must be noted that mediation is in no way binding and your spouse may still go back to what they demanded earlier.

Arbitration is a method that is similar to mediation in the sense that it is a way of settling disputes outside an official court proceeding. Under arbitration, an arbitrator takes into consideration all the facts and then determines the terms of the settlement. Generally, the couple just agrees to what the arbitrator comes up with. But, like in a mediation, this too leaves room for the spouse to change his/her mind.

An alternative method to this is a partial settlement agreement. If you find yourself and your spouse to be somewhat in agreement to the terms of settlement, you can sign a partial settlement agreement and leave the final decision in the hands of the judge; which can be worked out effectively. This will not only reduce the duration of the trial but will also alleviate the hostile feelings of both spouses since they both feel that they gained something more or less equal to the other spouse’s gains.

Attorney Intervention: Divorces have the tendency to turn ugly overnight. In some cases, working with an attorney on your side can also act as a barrier between your spouse and you. However, lawyers can help remove some of the emotion from the settlement negotiations and that could drive your partner to arrive at an equitable arrangement. If worst comes to worst, a lawyer already has experience with contested divorces. He or she can take you through what a contested divorce entails and help you in presenting a case to the judge saying that your terms are in fact a reasonable compromise to a situation that has gone bad.