What is a Consent Order in Family Court?
A consent order is a written agreement that is approved by the family court and regulates child support, custody, visitation, and other matters related to divorce or separation. It allows couples who are divorcing or separating to settle some or all aspects of their case outside of court while still having the order enforced by the court.
When Are Consent Orders Used?
Consent orders are commonly used during divorce and separation to outline agreements between spouses on key issues like:
Child Custody and Visitation
- Legal and physical custody arrangements
- Visitation schedules for non-custodial parent
- Holiday and vacation visitation schedule
- Amount one parent will pay
- Details on how it will be paid (frequency, method etc.)
- If one spouse will pay support to the other
- Amount and duration of support
Division of Assets and Debts
- How property and debts will be divided
- Process for transferring assets and responsibility for debts
- Parenting rules and guidelines
- Payment of children’s expenses like education, healthcare
- Sale of jointly owned property
Benefits of Consent Orders
Consent orders have several advantages over litigating these matters in court:
Saves Time and Money
- Avoids lengthy court battles and legal expenses
- Typically a faster process than litigation
- Couples decide the terms instead of leaving it to a judge
- Allows creativity in custody arrangements, asset division etc.
- Encourages compromise and agreement vs. adversarial litigation
- Sets a positive tone for future co-parenting relationship
- Resolves key issues upfront providing clarity for both parties
- Reduces uncertainty and arguments down the road
- More flexibility than court-ordered agreements
- Can re-negotiate and adjust terms over time as needed
The Consent Order Process
If you want a consent order, here is a general overview of the process:
Negotiation and Drafting
- Couple negotiates terms of consent order either on their own or with attorneys
- One attorney typically prepares initial draft
Review and Revision
- Other spouse reviews draft consent order with their attorney and suggests changes
- Revisions go back and forth until agreement is reached
Filing the Consent Order
- Once signed by both parties, the consent order is filed with the court
- May require filing fee
- Judge reviews order to ensure it is fair and in compliance with the law
- Judge may request changes or clarification before approving
Entry of the Order
- Once approved, consent order is entered into the court record
- Provides same force and effect as a court order issued by a judge
- Court clerk provides filed stamped copies to each spouse and attorneys
- Entered order can be enforced if one party doesn’t comply
What Should be Included in a Consent Order?
A consent order should clearly spell out the agreements reached between spouses on all relevant issues. Key components include:
- Full legal names of both spouses
- Case caption including county and docket number
- Brief background on marriage and current status
- States desire to settle issues out of court
- Custody, visitation, child support terms
- Division of assets and debts
- Spousal support and payment terms
- Any other agreements
- Both spouses sign consent order in front of notary
- Attorneys may also sign
Service and Filing
- Indicates copies served on spouse and attorneys
- States date filed with court
- Any referenced documents like financial statements
Can a Consent Order be Modified?
Yes, a consent order can be modified but it typically requires showing a substantial change in circumstances. Reasons consent orders may be modified include:
- Changes in income substantially affecting child support
- One parent relocating significantly impacting custody
- An older child’s preference on custody
- Failure to comply with terms of the order
- Unanticipated changes rendering order unfair
To modify a consent order, one parent must file a motion with the court. The other parent has the right to object. The court will hear arguments and determine if changes are warranted.
When are Consent Orders Not Appropriate?
Consent orders are not appropriate in certain situations, such as:
- History of domestic violence
- Concerns about intimidation or coercion during negotiation
- Significant power imbalance between spouses
- Lack of full financial disclosure
- Disagreement over key issues like custody
In these cases, litigation may be necessary to allow court to hear arguments and issue a decision. Concerns over fairness and equity outweigh the benefits of an agreement.
Consulting an Attorney
Those contemplating a consent order should consult an experienced family law attorney. An attorney can:
- Advise if a consent order is appropriate
- Represent client’s interests in negotiation
- Ensure order is fair and enforceable
- Explain legal rights and obligations
- Help modify order if needed later
Even if spouses agree on terms, independent legal advice helps avoid issues down the road.
Consent orders allow divorcing couples to settle key issues mutually in an enforceable court order. They provide greater control, flexibility and efficiency vs. litigation. However, consent orders are not appropriate under certain circumstances indicating potential coercion or lack of disclosure. Consulting attorneys helps ensure consent orders reflect a fair agreement. Overall, consent orders promote cooperation and provide faster resolution, but should be entered carefully after full consideration of the terms and rights being settled.
What is the difference between a consent order and a court order?
A consent order is mutually agreed to by the spouses and presented to the court for approval. A court order is issued by a judge after hearings.
Can I write up my own consent order?
It is not recommended. Consent orders have legal implications and often require specific language. Having attorneys draft it better protects your rights.
How long does the consent order process take?
It varies, but drafting, negotiation and court approval can often be done in 1-3 months, much faster than litigation.
Can a consent order be overturned?
It is difficult if the order was entered in accordance with the law. A judge would have to find evidence of coercion, non-disclosure, or that the order is severely unfair or unenforceable.
When does a consent order go into effect?
A consent order goes into effect once approved by the judge and entered into the court record. This provides the consent order the full force of law.