Will this divorce ever end? This is a common question that is not only a request for information but very often an expression of frustration as well. An agreement reached in a divorce case should be seen as a cause for celebration. It is the light at the end of the divorce tunnel, so to speak. With agreement comes closure, whether through mediation or litigation; cases are brought to a close, and spouses can finally begin to lead their separate lives. The exact process of ending a contested divorce begins with the resolution of some or all issues between the spouses. At this point, couples will have come to terms with issues such as child custody, spousal support, and division of assets. Each side may have raised important points, but these points have now been resolved in a way with which both spouses can live.
In recognition of this consensus, the mediator (or the attorneys in the case of a litigated case) will create a document called a “Marital Settlement Agreement” or a “Stipulated Judgment.” This document puts the parties’ agreement in writing, making it official and legally binding. In the case of a mediated resolution, the spouses are then encouraged to meet with a consulting attorney to review the final settlement agreement. The consulting attorney can advise spouses on the agreement and whether it makes sense for them to sign. If spouses refuse to sign the settlement agreement, they may return to mediation or commence (or continue) the litigation in court.
In most cases, though, the agreement means that spouses have worked out their issues fully and are ready to move forward. Both spouses will sign the settlement agreement and then send this document to be reviewed by a judge. The judge will review the document and (generally) approve it, provided that both spouses have signed and the agreement complies with California law. With approval, the divorce is then completed and both spouses can begin to move on from their failed marriage. This entire process can either be relatively quick or it can drag on and on and on; the parties are in control over that aspect of their case because they are the ones needed to achieve a settlement, and settlement comes as a result of negotiation and compromise. Compromise is generally the result of common sense and reason and requires the ability to see the other person’s side and a willingness to make compromises and sacrifices. For people involved in a contested divorce, none of this comes easily, but it is possible with patient guidance by the mediator and lawyers and a willingness to compromise fairly and reasonably on the part of the parties to achieve an amicable resolution to this very difficult and painful process. And one is best advised to remember that it is far easier to expect compliance with a court order born of mutual compromise and agreement than one that is simply the result of a judge’s mandate.