Divorce Settlements in Pennsylvania
Many divorce cases are resolved when the parties reach a settlement agreement, which is subsequently made a part of the final order that legally divorces the parties. However, in the context of divorce settlement agreements, the court and the parties’ attorneys may use terms like “merged,” “survived,” or “incorporated.” Although these terms may seem innocuous, they can actually have a significant impact on your divorce and your dealings with your ex-spouse thereafter.
Explaining an Incorporated Divorce Settlement Agreement
When a divorcing couple reaches an agreement over some or all the issues in their divorce such as division of assets, alimony, or child support, they will present their agreement to the trial court. If the trial court approves of the settlement, the trial court will make its terms a part of the divorce decree. In the divorce decree, the court may use certain terms in reference to the parties’ divorce settlement agreement that can affect how a settlement agreement can be enforced or modified.
First and foremost, many settlement agreements are described as being “incorporated” into the divorce decree. This means that the agreement’s terms are made part of the decree. If a settlement agreement is not “incorporated,” then it cannot be subsequently enforced through contempt proceedings or a motion to enforce litigant’s rights.
If a court refers to a divorce settlement agreement as “merged” into a divorce judgment, that means the agreement becomes part of the divorce judgment, or if the agreement is comprehensive enough, it becomes the divorce judgment. The court retains jurisdiction over its divorce judgment order and retains the ability to modify the judgment as permitted under court rules.
Thereafter, either ex-spouse can petition the court to enforce the agreement according to the original judgment. If a party wishes to modify the agreement, he or she must demonstrate that there has been a material change of circumstances from the time that the original judgment was issued.
Finally, it should be noted that even when a court merges a settlement agreement, it only has the authority to enforce provisions it could have the authority to order. If the court could not have ordered a provision of a divorce settlement agreement, it cannot enforce that provision. Most agreements specify that the agreement is incorporated but not merged into the decree.
Divorce Settlement Agreements and Child Support
Finally, it should be noted that regardless of how a divorce settlement agreement is made part of a divorce judgment, a court retains the authority to modify a child support order. Because child support legally belongs to the child, divorcing parents cannot negotiate away a child’s right to support as part of their divorce settlement agreement.
Contact a Colmar Family Law Attorney for a Consultation About Settlement Agreements in Pennsylvania Today
If you are thinking about filing for divorce, or if you have already started the divorce process and are dealing with another matter such as child custody, child support, or division of assets, you need to speak with a qualified attorney. The Pennsylvania family law attorneys at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C represent clients throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Newtown, Doylestown, Lansdale, and Norristown. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (215) 822-7575 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 2605 N. Broad St., Colmar, PA 18915, as well as an office located in Newtown, PA.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.