Do verbal agreements made during marriage hold any weight in court?

Many clients come into our office wondering if verbal agreements made during the marriage have any value in court.  Most divorcing spouses, particularly those with children, have discussed divorce prior to coming into our office. They say things such as:

  1. “We had a verbal agreement – we agreed that if we ever got divorced, the house would be mine,” or
  2. “My spouse said, if we ever get divorced, we would share 50/50 custody of the children.”

They want to know, in the tide of divorce-induced uncertainty, do these verbal agreements matter in court?

This was unexpected.

The answer is, generally, no.  This can be a difficult “pill to swallow” because, of course, the agreements we make with the people in our lives have important meaning to us, whether or not we put those agreements in writing.  That said, the sooner clients accept the reality of the law, the sooner they can move their cases and their lives towards finality.

Agreements regarding changing the character of real property and most assets between spouses must be made in writing.  The laws governing these types of agreements are very technical.  In the absence of a written agreement otherwise, California community property law will determine the character of assets, regardless of parties’ verbal agreements otherwise.

Regarding child custody and support, the court generally uses the “best interest of the child” standard to decide issues such as a parenting schedule.  Therefore, a verbal agreement regarding custody will not hold much weight with the court.  The court will decide custody issues in the best interest of the child at the time of its decision, regardless of previous verbal agreements.  The caveat is that if parents have verbally agreed to a parenting schedule, and have been following said schedule, the court does find (1) stability and (2) maintaining status quo generally in the best interest of children if they are used to the schedule and doing well under it.

If you are facing child custody problems, it’s important to seek an attorney who can provide you with legal advice and help you take the next steps for resolving your situation. We invite you to contact the Los Angeles family law attorneys of Lavinsky Law firm today at (310) 896-4172.

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