Before trial, parties to a suit for divorce can resolve issues related to the division and confirmation of marital property and spousal support through an agreement incident to divorce (AID). The AID can divide the spouses’ community property and liabilities, confirm their separate property and liabilities, provide for spousal support, set forth the terms of the agreed parenting plan, and incorporate any other terms to which the parties have agreed (e.g., income taxes, college expenses for children, attorney’s fees, health insurance and life insurance.
The AID must be submitted to the court for its approval, either in writing or made in open court and entered on the record. If the court finds that the terms of the AID are just and right, and/or in the best interest of the children, the terms are binding on the court. If the court finds that the terms are not just and right, the court can ask the parties to submit a revised agreement or set the case for a contested hearing. The court, however, cannot supply missing terms to the agreement.
Either party can revise or repudiate an AID before the court renders a final judgment of divorce, unless the agreement conforms with requirements of another law that makes the agreement binding (i.e., irrevocable settlement agreement or Rule 11). It is important to note that a court can approve the AID prior to rendering judgment. For example, if the parties have entered into an AID and submitted it to the court for approval prior to the expiration of the 60 day waiting period, either party may withdraw their consent after the court’s approval but prior to the rendering of the divorce. Once the court has rendered the final judgment based on the AID, consent can not be withdrawn.
The AID can be an important tool for preserving the parties’ privacy, if that is an issue (especially in Dallas County, and other counties where court filings are readily viewable online). The AID can contain all the details of all the accounts, dollar amounts, and other terms (i.e., drug and alcohol testing) that a party might not want visible as part of the court’s records. In this case, the AID will be submitted to the court for approval, the court will sign the decree reciting its approval of the AID and incorporating the terms of the AID by reference, but the AID will not be filed with the court as part of its records. Obviously, this can create an enforcement issue at a later date if one of the parties needed to enforce the terms at a later date, and clients opting for this level of privacy should be advised of the potential issues surrounding its enforce ability.