Articles and Speeches
Family Court Approval of a
Marital Settlement Agreement Over One Party
January 9, 2015
Reid T. Sherard
Reprinted with permission from the South Carolina Bar. The article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of SC Lawyer magazine.
In a domestic relations case it can be very difficult for a lawyer to help a client negotiate and settle the myriad of issues. Most litigants, even in the most acrimonious disputes, want to manage the outcome and minimize the risk. Trials are expensive and demanding of judicial resources. The Supreme Court requires mediation in about two-thirds of counties1 before a trial can be scheduled, and it "encourage[s] litigants to reach an extrajudicial agreement"2 on marital issues. Most cases settle. The unique challenge in the family court, unlike many other civil courts, is any such agreement must be approved by the family court.3 Many times parties commit to settlements and then attempt to back out of the deal prior to the approval hearing. In these circumstances the family court "must assume jurisdiction"4 and begin a multi-step analysis to "satisfy itself the agreement is a fair contractual end to the parties' marital claims."5 Thereafter the family court may approve the settlement agreement over the objection of a party who adopts such "buyer's remorse" if proper procedure is followed and appropriate evidence is presented.
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