Marriage Reconciliation Agreements: the Lex Pacificatoria before the Last Resort of Divorce
When the world suffers wars and threats of wars, our global community sometimes overcomes by reconciling conflicts through peace treaties. The Lex Pacificatoria means “law of the peacemakers,” and refers to this art of negotiating peace agreements to end a state of war or to create permanent peace.
It would not be an overstatement to say that many people experience personal wars in their lives when going through separation or divorce. Some may seek this Lex Pacificatoria before they make up their minds to pursue breaking up a family.
Often, however, most of us are unsure where to seek help when we need it the most.
For people who are torn between separating and trying to work through a troubled marriage, they may be in search of more permanent, detailed advice than simply “just divorce your spouse.” For example, some couples may seek a neutral third-party intervention, or hope for improvement through AA meetings, anger management classes, couples/family counseling, or religious group meetings. In such circumstances, it is wise to put these plans into a signed document that can include (1) the specific conditions; (2) the effect of complying with these conditions; and (3) the consequences of not complying with the conditions.
A Reconciliation Agreement is a valid marital contract between spouses that specifies detailed conditions with which the parties must comply to resume marital cohabitation. The good news is that a Reconciliation Agreement is valid and enforceable in Virginia in the same way as any Pre-Nuptial, or Post-Marital Agreement, or Property Settlement Agreement. Also, having a Reconciliation Agreement gives a sense of permanency for the couple working through their differences, toward a new hope for their marriage – where they are both working to rebuild something important. Lastly, amending and revoking a signed Reconciliation Agreement can be done only by a written agreement as well, which must also be signed by the parties.
What about the timing of signing a Reconciliation Agreement? Is it still possible to change course once a divorce has begun? It is possible for couples to enter into a Reconciliation Agreement before or after signing a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) or a Separation Agreement. A standard PSA generally contains a provision which states that a later reconciliation of the parties does not nullify the PSA, unless the parties revoke the PSA in writing. Therefore, if this provision is also included in the Reconciliation Agreement, it does not matter whether the Reconciliation Agreement is entered into in anticipation of separation or for restoration of marital relationships. What matters is that the terms of the Reconciliation Agreement are tailored to your concerns and needs.
I once had a client who lamented, “I grew up in a broken family, and I still remember what it feels like to see my parents going through separation and divorce. I do not want my child to go through the same thing.” This powerful statement reflects both the reality of an age of divorce and a parent’s genuine hope for their child to enjoy an unbroken family.
A Reconciliation Agreement may bring Lex Pacificatoria towards resolution of differences before one has to resort to the last resort of divorce.
Ra Hee Jeon is a Pender & Coward attorney focusing her practice on family law and immigration matters.
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