Jun 24

Zipper Clause and Types of Agreements in Family Law

Written by: Mikaila Matt

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Not all family law cases are resolved in litigation — instead, most cases end when all parties come to an agreement. There are many advantages to resolving your case by agreement, like avoiding the costs and time associated with trial.

Agreements can be reached in many ways: sometimes divorcing spouses decide on terms by themselves, and in other cases, they may each hire an attorney to help them negotiate. In some situations, the parties to a contested case may attend mediation where a mediator — who is trained to help people solve problems — can help them get past their differences to resolve their case, either in whole or in part.

Types of Agreements

There are many types of agreements in Family Court cases, including:

  • Pre-marital agreements (also referred to as “prenuptial agreements”): these are agreements entered into before marriage that detail how assets and debts are to be divided and address restrictions on spousal support should the couple get divorced in the future. These are not especially common agreements in South Carolina Family Court, despite their portrayal in many movies, TV shows, and books.

Learn more about pre-marital agreements here and here.

  • Post-nuptial agreements: these are agreements that the parties enter after marriage that detail the division of assets, spousal support, and/or alimony. These are also uncommon agreements but are typically entered into after a period of marital difficulties, separation, or significant changes in financial resources. Because there is some question whether these agreements are enforceable in South Carolina Family Court, it’s important that you seek the advice of an experienced lawyer before entering such an agreement.

Learn more about post-nuptial agreements here.

  • Marital settlement agreements: these are agreements on some, or all, aspects of a couple’s divorce, including division of assets and debts, alimony, child custody and visitation, and support. These are common agreements since most divorce cases are resolved by agreement in South Carolina Family Court. These are also sometimes referred to as “property settlement agreements.”

Learn more about marital settlement agreements here.

  • Parenting agreements: these are agreements addressing some, or all, aspects of child custody, visitation, and support. These are common agreements in South Carolina Family Court, especially for unmarried couples who have children together or when parents decide to modify their prior custody and visitation arrangement. Some lawyers refer to these as “child custody, visitation, and support agreements.”

Typical Clauses in an Agreements

There are two main types of provisions in a Family Court agreement: (1) general, “boilerplate” language, and (2) detailed provisions specific to your circumstances.

“Boilerplate” is standardized language that can be used in a variety of documents.  These clauses usually include a recitation of certain facts of the case, waivers of claims the parties have against each other, the extent to which the parties participated in the negotiations, the process for approving, modifying, and enforcing the terms of the agreement, and the contempt powers of the South Carolina Family Court. A “zipper clause,” stating that the terms of the agreement are comprehensive, and that the parties do not have any outside agreements between them, is also common boilerplate.

For consistency and to make preparing agreements more efficient (and cost effective for their clients), most divorce lawyers have preferred boilerplate they include in their agreements.

The more specific parts of an agreement depend on the issues in your case. If a couple is getting divorced, then their agreement will usually detail who will own their assets, who will be responsible for each of their debts, and any details related to payment of spousal support, alimony, or health insurance benefits from one spouse to the other.

If the case involves children, an agreement will include language addressing custody, visitation, and each party’s financial obligations to the children. The agreement may also detail who has the authority to make decisions for the child, how the parents are to communicate with each other, and any restraints on the parents’ behavior around their children.

If you are negotiating an agreement related to your divorce or children, or if you are worried about the consequences of the terms of your agreement, our attorneys can advise you. Schedule a consultation to talk with us about your situation.