The Dangers of Handshake Agreements

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September 12, 2013

In the best of all worlds, divorced parents are able to communicate and reach agreements without having to hire lawyers and go to the courts.  However, few parents know the details of family law and the unfortunate reality is that initial agreements may turn into bitter disputes a few years down the road. If not done correctly and formalized with the court, handshake agreements regarding child support can lead to severe financial consequences for a parent who honors the agreement.

Handshake agreements between parents regarding child support are unenforceable. Oregon law states that the existing support judgment is final as to any support installment that has accrued prior to a parent being served with a motion to modify support and that the court may not set aside, alter, or modify any support installment that has accrued before a motion to modify is served. The courts have strictly interpreted the statute and in multiple cases found that undisputed handshake agreements between parents were unenforceable. Oregon courts have found agreements to pay one party’s credit card bills,  purchase a car, clothing or similar financial arangements do not qualify as child support. As a result, the parent who provided such support through a handshake agreement is left with both an outstanding judgment against them for thousands of dollars in child support arrears, and out of pocket for what they paid.

Handshake agreements must be formalized with the court to be effective. Parents can make sure their agreements are enforceable by taking the simple step of reducing it to a judgment and having the court sign off on it. Courts encourage and want parents to communicate and reach agreements. Oregon statutes and administrative rules recognize and allow for parties to reach their own agreement in entering a judgment. So long as the agreements are incorporated into a final judgment, the courts will go to great lengths to enforce them.

If you want to make sure the handshake agreement you reached with your former spouse is enforceable, you should consult with an attorney. An attorney can help you identify the issues that need to be addressed. For example, one issue many parents forget is that children (or the state on their behalf) have their own independent right to seek child support and that an agreement between the parents does not affect that right. An attorney can help parents draft a judgment that incorporates their agreement and make that agreement enforceable.