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New Jersey divorce case shows why settlement details matter

Divorce takes time. There are a lot of decisions and paperwork, and attorneys. Why can’t it now be done with a few clicks online like everything else? Or with a vacation in Reno like the old days?

A dramatic New Jersey case made its way to the state’s Supreme Court and illustrates the need for patience while the separating couple and their counsel pay close to every unique detail and possibility.

A divorce agreement that seemed to think of everything

Marriage settlement agreements always marks a major live event in people’s lives, but legally speaking, the couple’s February 2013 settlement looks fairly routine.

A man agreed to pay alimony and child support to his soon-to-be ex-wife for the first 12 years after the divorce. Particularly as he was in a statistically dangerous profession, it was wise to consider his dying prematurely, so his life insurance policy was used as security to back this commitment.

But the life insurance policy contained a common clause for such policies. It had a suicide exception, meaning the policy was void if the holder commits suicide. About a year and a half later, the man committed suicide. He died intestate (he left no will) and a probate court had work to do in deciding the fate of the deceased’s assets.

Time and money to find a work-around

The man’s ex-wife filed suit, arguing that the man’s suicide constituted a breach of the divorce agreement and that the estate was liable for meeting his obligations.

The trial court agreed. And an appeals court then agreed. And the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the lower courts’ decisions. Because the man’s entire estate wasn’t large enough to fulfill the settlement agreement, the man’s total estate was ordered to be paid to his ex-wife.

This decision now sets a precedent in New Jersey, meaning that lessons can be drawn from the story for future reference.

For our purposes, once again, the importance of estate planning like writing a will with the help of a qualified attorney is as clear as it’s ever been.

And a detailed, precise, far-thinking settlement agreement drafted under the close eye of good divorce attorneys can save money, stress and time over the long run and keep everyone out of long court battles.

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