Divorce settlement agreements: FAQs and some words of non-advice

Divorce settlement agreements: FAQs and some words of non-advice

We remain committed to never providing legal advice in this legal blog. We also remain committed to gathering the most fascinating details of celebrities’ divorce settlement agreements. This is why in today’s blog, we gather some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about divorce settlement agreements and offer insights that may resemble advice (they’re not). We use celebrities’ divorce cases to explain certain concepts because, more often than not, they’re outrageous and therefore delightful.

Q: What is a divorce settlement agreement?

A: A divorce settlement agreement is a legally binding contract that outlines how divorcing spouses will divide their assets, debts, and parental responsibilities. While commonly known as a divorce settlement agreement, different terms, such as separation agreement or separation and property settlement agreement, may also be used.

As a divorce lawyer in Washington State, we can honestly say that the vast majority of divorce settlements are pretty straightforward. We don't have the same kind of drama and high stakes that you see in celebrity divorces. For instance, we’ve never had to deal with an eccentric like David Hasselhoff. When Mr. Hasselhoff and his ex-wife actress Pamela Bach divorced in 2006, they agreed that he would keep the rights to use his nicknames "The Hoff" and "Malibu Dave." Why he ever thought his ex-wife would want to keep that “asset” is anyone’s guess.

In our Renton offices, however, we say never say never. We’ll gladly welcome a client who wishes to settle nicknames-related disputes. Truly, in most cases, we're just trying to divvy up the assets and debts fairly and amicably and come up with a parenting plan that works for both parties. Of course, there are always some exceptions.

Q: Is Washington State a 50/50 state for divorce? Does that mean what I think it means?

A: If you think it means divorcing spouses split every single one of their properties and debts 50/50, then no.

Washington State is considered a "community property" state, which means that all assets and debts acquired during the marriage are generally divided evenly between the spouses in a divorce. Divvying up the assets can get quite complicated, however, and divorce lawyers and accountants don’t simply whip out their calculators and divide a couple’s savings and debts by two and call it a day. The specific division of property will ultimately be determined by the court.

Got more questions about “community property,” 50/50 asset split, “no-fault divorce states,” and other fascinating divorce terms? Discuss it with our lawyers. You can also read about those terms in our blog, Divorcing in Washington State? Here are some terms you need to learn

Got more questions about “community property,” 50/50 asset split, “no-fault divorce states,” and other fascinating divorce terms? Discuss it with our lawyers.

You can also read about those terms in our blog, Divorcing in Washington State? Here are some terms you need to learn

Q: Does the spouse who gets cheated on get more money/properties in a divorce settlement? Does that mean faithfulness and fidelity are rewarded?

A: No. If this were true, then many, many cheating spouses would be bankrupt and/or end up with zero assets post-divorce. While infidelity may be considered a factor in the division of property, it is not always determinative. The court will consider a variety of factors, including the length of the marriage, the financial circumstances of each spouse, and the reasons for the divorce, when making a decision about how to divide the property.

In the real world, fidelity doesn't come with a price tag, so don’t be fooled by celebrity divorces in which the cheated-on spouse got a huge infidelity payout. For instance, when Tiger Woods and his ex-wife Elin Nordegren divorced in 2009 due to the former’s wandering eye, she bagged $100 million in the divorce settlement. She didn’t get paid $100 million because Mr. Woods cheated on her (multiple times), but simply because his net worth at the time was in the hundreds of millions. While spouses like Ms. Nordegren might earn sympathy points, the legal system focuses more on equitable division rather than relationship drama.

Q: What makes a divorce settlement expensive?

A: Multiple factors can contribute to the expense of a divorce settlement, including the complexity of the financial issues — the more mansions, yachts, and rare art pieces you have, the more zeros get added to the bill. Another factor is the willingness of the spouses to cooperate, and the need for expert testimony. Disagreements, even seemingly minor ones, can come at a great cost — we’re talking arguments over who gets the fancy blankets, the BBQ kits, or silly nicknames, as in the case of our favorite Baywatch alumnus, David Hasselhoff.

Read also: 4 Divorce cases with bizarre items included in the division of assets

Moreover, when spouses disagree about the terms of their divorce, they are more likely to need to hire attorneys to represent them in court. These attorneys will need to spend time researching the law, preparing legal documents, and arguing the case in court. This can all add up to a lot of money. In some cases, mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) can help to reduce the cost of the divorce settlement process.

In conclusion, divorces can be pricey, but with the right guidance, you might at least get a decent deal out of the whole ordeal.

Q: What’s the deal with non-disparagement clauses? Can I conjure them in my divorce settlement?

A: Non-disparagement clauses are provisions in a divorce settlement agreement that prohibit either spouse from speaking negatively about the other. While these clauses may seem strange, they can be helpful in preventing further conflict and animosity between the spouses. Other "bizarre" clauses may be included in a divorce settlement agreement to address specific circumstances of the case. It’s worth noting that what’s bizarre to one spouse may be completely normal to the other.

Related reading: “Speak no ill of J.Lo” and other weird divorce settlement agreements

For our favorite category of people (i.e., celebrities), it’s fairly common to want to have non-disparagement clauses in their prenuptial agreements. This is because celebs are often in the public eye and their lives are scrutinized by the media (and legal blogs). A non-disparagement clause can help protect them from negative publicity that could damage their careers or reputations.

Several high-profile celebrities have opted for non-disparagement clauses in their prenuptial agreements to keep the drama off TMZ. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's prenup reportedly included a provision preventing either party from airing grievances in public. Similarly, power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z have a clause in their prenuptial agreement that restricts them from discussing their financial matters openly. Even Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes had a non-disparagement clause in their prenup, preventing them from discussing their marriage or children in the public eye.

In any case, publications like Forbes, Page Six, and TMZ somehow managed to leak super private details of these celebs’ prenups anyway. Having said that, it would be much worse for their privacy if non-disparagement clauses didn’t exist, as these ensure that what happens in the marriage stays private.

Whether or not to include a non-disparagement clause in a prenuptial agreement is a personal decision that should be made on a case-by-case basis. There are both pros and cons to consider — talk to us about your case in Washington State.

Q: What factors make a divorce settlement agreement ambiguous? What do I need to do if it is ambiguous?

A: Divorce settlement agreements, while intended to provide clarity and closure to the dissolution of a marriage, can sometimes become ambiguous due to various factors, including:

  1. Poorly drafted language: The use of vague or imprecise language can lead to misinterpretations and disagreements about the meaning of the agreement. For instance, phrases like "fair share" or "reasonable amount" leave room for subjective interpretations.
  2. Incomplete or unclear provisions: Omitting essential details or failing to adequately explain specific terms can create ambiguity, leading to disputes about how the agreement should be applied.
  3. Changes in circumstances: Unforeseen changes in the parties' financial situations, family dynamics, or other relevant circumstances can render certain provisions outdated or unclear, requiring reinterpretation.
  4. Lack of legal expertise: While self-drafted agreements may seem cost-effective, they often lack the precision and clarity that an experienced attorney can provide.
  5. Emotional factors: The emotional turmoil surrounding a divorce can cloud judgment and hinder effective communication, making it challenging to draft a clear and unambiguous agreement.
  6. Intentional ambiguity: In some cases, parties may intentionally leave certain terms ambiguous to allow for flexibility or to avoid potential conflicts. However, this can backfire and lead to disputes later.
  7. Evolving legal landscape: Family law is constantly evolving, and agreements drafted years ago may not reflect the latest legal principles or terminology, creating ambiguity in their application.

To illustrate, let’s examine the case of Kevin Costner and his estranged wife Christine Baumgartner. In May 2023, Ms. Baumgartner filed for divorce after 18 years of marriage to the actor. The couple had plenty of assets between them, and their respective lawyers encountered issues regarding dividing their properties. As Ms. Baumgartner was preparing to move out of their shared home, Mr. Costner didn’t want his ex to take any more than she was entitled to and blocked her from taking certain items, including outdoor furniture, gym equipment, and artwork.

Therefore, they had their lawyers agree to list specific items that she could take from their home. But, per Mr. Costner’s legal team, they received a "hopelessly vague and ambiguous" list from the other party. In her list, she apparently listed things like “Christine’s personal electronics,” which is indeed vague. As to plates, bowls, and silverware, her team had his team scratching their heads because it wasn’t specified which plates, which bowls, and which silverware she wanted.

So, is the moral lesson in this scenario to not be attached to material possessions because, like love and affection between celebrity couples, they are fleeting? Absolutely not. The lesson here is to avoid vagueness and hire experienced family law attorneys like yours truly. We can explain to you concepts such as “community property” and guide you through the drafting process.

Q: What if my spouse and I can’t agree on anything?

A: Reaching an agreement on a divorce settlement can be challenging, especially when both parties have strong feelings and differing perspectives. When couples find themselves at odds on various aspects of the divorce, such as property division, child custody, and financial matters, it can lead to a stalemate and hinder the divorce process.

If navigating the divorce settlement with your spouse feels like playing a high-stakes game of chess with no end in sight, consider these strategic steps to break the impasse. First and foremost, seek professional guidance from experienced family law attorneys who can enlighten you about your rights and obligations.

Secondly, identify areas of agreement to build trust. By focusing on common ground, you may discover shared interests that pave the way for compromise on more contentious issues. Also, this way, you avoid the fates of exes like Sylvester Stallone and Jennifer Flavin or Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who fought about, among many other things, wines. When children are involved, prioritize their well-being and stability when discussing custody and parenting arrangements. Don’t do what Joe Jonas did.

Related reading: A peek behind Joe Jonas’s PR team’s messy comms strategy and planted stories

Q: Do I need a family law attorney to draft a divorce agreement? Can’t I just use an AI-powered app for that?

A: Sure, you can take a shot at drafting your own divorce agreement or ask your favorite AI-powered attorney to do it for you. Just don’t expect it to be as good as what a family law attorney can come up with.

Do you enjoy navigating legal jargon, deciphering state-specific laws, and playing mediator with your soon-to-be ex? Probably not. A family law attorney can help ensure your divorce agreement is a masterpiece, not a garbled mess. And though you might save a few bucks going the DIY route, you should remember that there's a reason people hire professionals — because they’re good at it.

Got more questions about divorce settlement agreement? You probably do

Should you sign your spouse’s proposed agreement if you like it? Should you not sign your spouse’s proposal if you don’t like it, and let it drag on for months or years until you come up with something both of you like? Do you still have to go to court if you sign a divorce settlement agreement? If you are ever tempted to seek answers to these questions on Reddit, don’t. Always go to lawyers like us.

Call family law attorneys Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams if you’ve got questions about your divorce settlement in Washington State. Visit our Renton law offices or leave us a message.