Are Temporary Agreements Useful?
A Temporary Agreement can be a useful tool to help couples navigate unchartered territory and try new paths until they find one that best suits them.
Mediation sometimes concludes with the parties reaching a temporary agreement, which is a legal document with specific terms the parties agree to obey until the agreement expires on a fixed expiration date. The parties, as part of the agreement, have also determined the expiration date. I've personally seen this expiration date vary from 2 weeks to 6 months. You may be wondering, if the agreement is going to expire, is it even useful to have one?
The answer: absolutely.
Temporary agreements allow the parties to try out different options before committing themselves to a final agreement. Why is this useful? Because the parties have a chance to figure out and get accustomed to their "new normal", or what i call Life After. In the case of a divorce, for instance, the couple may need some time to sort out new living arrangements without the other person. That new lifestyle will include new expenses that may not have been incurred before, and new challenges. During this time of transition, a temporary agreement may be the best solution to ease the transition while minimizing litigation.
Let me give an example.
Let's say that Husband and Wife have been married for 7 years and own a home in Orlando, Florida, where they both also have jobs. Husband was born and raised in Orlando and has several family members and friends in the area. Wife is originally from London, England, and only moved to Orlando because of the marriage. Husband and Wife file for divorce. At mediation, Wife reveals she intends to movie back to London, England after her divorce, but she has nowhere to stay in Orlando, besides the marital home, while she gets her affairs in order. Husband has plenty of family and friends who have offered him a place to stay until his divorce is final. The couple agrees they would like to sell the home (which has gone up in value from their purchase price) and split the profit equally. The Husband and Wife then come up with a Temporary Agreement in mediation, in which they agree that Wife will continue to live in the marital home while it is prepared to be sold and while she prepares to move back to London. Husband agrees to stay with a friend in the meanwhile, and they agree to split the costs to maintain the marital home (the mortgage payment, the water bill, the electric bill, cable/internet, etc.). They agree on a listing price and Wife will choose the realtor. They agree that the Temporary Agreement will expire in 45 days or when the home is sold, whichever occurs first. If the house has not sold in 45 days, the parties can come back to mediation when the Temporary Agreement expires and sort out the issues.
Let's say they come back to mediation in 45 days. How has the arrangement worked? Were they satisfied and would like to extend it for another 30 days? Was the home delayed in being listed? Did they over price the home? Perhaps by now, Wife has found another job in London and must return to London to begin her job in 2 weeks. The couple may be ready to come to a Final Marital Settlement Agreement at this point, or they may need another Temporary Agreement. The point is, a temporary agreement lets a couple try something new and ease into a transition. This is knowing that if the terms don't work out, or circumstances change, the agreement terms aren't permanent and can be adjusted or allowed to expire.
Obviously, where a couple has been estranged and living separately for several months or years, such a transition period may not be necessary. But for many couples, a divorce or other family law event is sudden. A Temporary Agreement can be a useful tool to help couples navigate unchartered territory and try new paths until they find one that best suits them.
In paternity and divorce cases involving children, temporary agreements are often used to try out timesharing schedules. Often, one parent was typically responsible for getting the children ready for school, or driving them to to their after school activities, etc.. The other parent doesn't have that experience and may want to think about a temporary timesharing agreement to see how well he/she is able to adjust to those new responsibilities when exercising his/her timesharing with the children. Sometimes, the parents find the transition challenging but doable, and are able to adopt the temporary schedule into a final permanent schedule. Other times, that parent realizes the temporary schedule is a disaster with his/her work schedule and he/she cannot reliably get the kids to school on time or to their extracurriculars, and would be more comfortable with a weekend timesharing schedule with extended/compensatory timesharing during the months of the year the kids are not enrolled in those extra activities.
Every case is unique and must be tailored to the needs of the parties and, if applicable, their children. Mediation, through the use of temporary agreements, allows the parties the flexibility to try out an approach to resolve their issues, and make the appropriate adjustments before committing to a final resolution.
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