Enforcement of Family Law “Contracts” is Rarely Cut and Dried
If you need help resolving a family dispute regarding a contract, whether it is a prenup, divorce settlement, child custody issue, alimony, or other, we are prepared to give you the legal advice and support you need.
Contract conflicts are tough to resolve in any case, but when they involve family members, the stakes are significantly greater. Contracts for family law are known by a variety of names and they address a number of important issues, including:
- Prenuptial agreements (also known as prenups)
- Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements
- Separation under the Law
- Separation and Divorce
- Financial Assistance for Children
- Children´s Custody
- Child Support
- Visitation with children
- Parenting contracts
- Paternity tests
- Grandparents’ Rights
The court can only enforce legitimate contracts, often known as “binding contracts.” Every legally valid contract (whether it is related to family law or not) requires the parties to:
-Make a conditional offer and accept it;
-Understand and agree on the meaning of the terms at the time the contract is created.
-Be physically and psychologically capable of entering into a contract;
-Make sure the contract’s objective and conditions aren’t unlawful or unethical.
Furthermore, most family law agreements must be in writing and signed by all parties (sometimes before a notary).
What steps are involved in implementing a family law agreement?
It’s a point of contention. Your family law contract becomes a legally binding court order if included or included in your divorce decree. This is what “incorporating the agreement” entails. When one of the parties to an incorporated agreement breaks it, the other party can sue for contempt of court to enforce the contract. A contempt petition has been filed in your current divorce case. It is simpler to enforce a contract if incorporated, but it is also simpler for the court to amend its terms.
If your contract were not integrated into your divorce decree, it would be handled as any other contract. However, when one of the parties to an unincorporated agreement breaches it, the other party might sue for breach of contract. The breach of contract lawsuit is a fresh case that must be served on the party that violated the contract. The lawsuit has the power to compel the other party to fulfill their contractual commitments (“specific performance”). It can also require that the innocent party be monetarily reimbursed for any losses incurred due to the violation (“monetary damages”). It is more expensive and time-consuming to file a new case, but the danger of the court modifying the contract conditions is significantly smaller.
After a contract is violated, you usually have three years to file suit; however, this time restriction might go as long as 10 years in specific situations.
A Unique Circumstance
In New Jersey, cohabitation is defined as when two adults enter into a financially advantageous partnership. Adults do not have to be married for the courts to see that both of them are now financially benefitting from their connection. Cohabitation plays a large role in modifying alimony agreements after divorce because an adult who is legally recognized to be “cohabiting” with another adult and is receiving alimony payments from a former spouse will often no longer require the same level of financial support as they once did.
The divorced couple in T.L.H. v. M.H. agreed to specify provisions on how the wife’s future cohabitation would affect their alimony arrangement in 2017. In addition, their Divorce Settlement Agreement included wording that described cohabitation as any circumstance in which the wife resided with a family member, rather than merely as part of a romantic relationship, as NJ cohabitation regulations require.
The husband filed a request to change their alimony arrangement when the wife moved home with her sister following the divorce, arguing that she was now “cohabiting” with another adult. Under normal conditions, this alimony adjustment request would very probably be refused. However, despite the woman’s misunderstanding of the ramifications of the specific wording in their Marital Settlement Agreement, the Trial Court, in this instance, terminated the husband’s alimony duties to his wife.
“There were no compelling grounds to diverge from the MSA’s obvious, unequivocal, and widely understood terms,” the Appellate Division stated. The alimony-termination event induced by cohabitation was appropriate in the circumstances since the arrangement was voluntary, knowing, and consented to.”
Although New Jersey law does not define cohabitation as an adult living with a family member, according to the parties’ contract language, the Trial Court was required to recognize and uphold the amended meaning of cohabitation in this instance. As a consequence, the previous alimony arrangement was changed by the Trial Court.
Contact our Family Law Attorneys for a Free Consultation at our Linden Office
At Edward S. Cooper Esq, Law Firm, we have successfully represented clients in Garwood, Elizabeth, and throughout Union County, Essex County, and northern Middlesex County. Our goal is to support your position to bring you a fair and equitable outcome.
Contact our Linden office by calling (908) 481-4625 today for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your individual needs and concerns.