Divorce is often a dynamic and involved process that starts with filing a petition for dissolution of the marriage. After a divorce has been filed, there are several avenues through which the parties can achieve the ultimate result-a divorce. First, and probably the most historically common (but that is changing), the parties can go to court, litigate the issues, and the Court can order the parties divorced.
Mediation is another option for dissolution, which is growing in popularity. While a mediator cannot divorce the parties, the issues, such as property division and parenting time, which would be addressed by a Court, can be mediated by the parties, and an agreement can be reached and approved by the Court, solving some or all of the pending divorce issues.
A third is a settlement agreement. For this process, the parties essentially agree, without the aid of a mediator or judge, to all terms of the dissolution, create a document embodying these terms (e.g. child support, property division, child custody) and the Court, again, approves this agreement as an Order, dissolving the marriage of the parties.
When settlement agreements are utilized, often, there are more players involved than just the parties themselves. Typically, both parties have attorneys to help them navigate through the ins and outs of the process. This ensures that the agreement is properly executed so that it can be approved by the Court.
An agreement that does not include the correct language or which does not effectively determine child custody, property division, or child support may not be acceptable to the Court. This happens when it leaves too many holes that would likely create problems in the future. Thus, having a properly drafted and executed settlement agreement is a complex and intricate task.
But what happens when a third party (outside of the parties and attorneys) becomes involved? Third parties can intervene as grandparents seeking visitation or, in a recent case, a potential property buyer who wanted a settlement agreement set aside so that he could purchase land from the parties.
In a recent Court of Appeals case, the parties spent several years on their dissolution matter, and at one point, the Court ordered that if the Husband was unable to refinance a farm property, a potential buyer (here, Meizelis, who intervened in the divorce action) could purchase the property.
The parties ultimately reached an agreement where the Husband had more time to refinance, and therefore, effectively took the deal off of the table for Meizelis. Meizelis appealed, arguing that he was not given notice of the agreement. The Court found that Meizelis did not have a present interest in the property, and the Court of Appeals ultimately agreed.
While third parties may have an interest in an agreement (or, as here, the failure of an agreement), it is rare that a third party is able to deny the parties from reaching an agreement. The judicial system encourages cooperation and agreements, when possible, and the desires of third parties (except for children) generally will not cause an agreement to fail.
We hope that this blog post has been informative as to the avenues of dissolution, the settlement agreement process, and the weight of third parties to agreements. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Jessica Keyes.