Most people are not in the habit of creating a written contract every time they make a promise to another person. In society, we expect that people will keep their promises, and many people put great stock in always keeping their word. However, without a written contract, how much is an oral agreement or promise worth in court? Will a judge uphold the terms of an oral agreement in your divorce?
It is not uncommon for parents or former partners to make agreements with each other over the phone or in person. These agreements may cover who will pick up the children, how child support or spousal support will be paid, or which partner will receive certain items of property.
Oral agreements are enforceable except for certain types of agreemetns. These include real estate, credit, contracts over a certain amount of money, or agreements that cannot be completed within a year. In particular, Washington State law requires that contracts which grant credit or are for a certain amount of money will need to be in writing. Of course, any evidence in writing about the agreement will generally trump any oral agreements or understanding.
When the parties are on good terms with each other, each person may simply agree to these terms and act accordingly. However, when things are more hostile or contentious, oral agreements are often not enough to win a case in court. Enforcing an agreement that is made on your word and a handshake take more time to prove than agreements in writing before a Court will enforce it.
When it comes to division of assets, the court is also going to make sure the contract is fair and equitable. The Court will not enforce an agreement that leaves one spouse penniless. Likewise, the Court will review agreements about children and residential arrangements to make sure the agreement is in the best interests of the child.
Emails, text messages, and other forms of written communications can all be used as evidence of an oral promise and will strengthen your case in the event that you need to argue about it in court. Ideally, parties should incorporate any changes to their divorce agreement in the document itself which can then be approved by a judge.
If this is not immediately possible, at least write down the terms of the agreement and get some form of acknowledgement about the terms of the contract from your child’s parent or former partner.
While enforcing an oral agreement is difficult, it is not impossible. At Pacific Northwest Family Law, our attorneys will help you make your case, and will work with you to hold your former partner accountable for his or her promises. To find out more about how our attorneys can help you with a divorce, child support, or other family law issue, schedule an appointment with our office today by calling 509-572-3700.