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Book Review: The Master Agreement by Jay Bultz

by Donald T. Saposnek
March 2015

Originally published by the Academy of Professional Family Mediators (APFM) in The Professional Family Mediator, Winter 2015. Full information on The Master Agreement is here.

The Master Agreement
The Master Agreement for Separation and Divorce: A Comprehensive Form Document for Creating Agreements for Separation, Divorce, and Parenting, by Jay M. Bultz, an attorney/mediator and APFM member in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is a spiral bound, first edition book written to create a comprehensive manual of issues, clauses and phrases that typically are used in drafting Marital Settlement Agreements. His purpose was to generate a master collection of relevant issues and a multitude of options for clauses to include in mediation agreements, presented in a logical order, as a guide for keeping the parties and the divorce professionals on task. As such, this book has achieved its goal. I know of nothing else published that attempts to accomplish this comprehensive mission.

And comprehensive it is. After prefacing with a number of conceptual, practical, and legal distinctions (e.g. agreement vs. contract; enforcement of agreements), he presents a section on “Recitals” that declare assertions about the couple’s “marriage”, “children”, ”disclosure”, “enforcement”, and so forth. Then, a section on “Marital Rights and Obligations” is followed by one on “Parenting,” “Assets and Income,” Debts and Liabilities,” and ends with one on “Administrative” issues. Each section includes scores of specific sub-topics. And, at the back of the book are various appendices of sample declarations, worksheets and calculations.

There are several unique features to this book. The first is the section on “Instructions for Use” at the beginning of the book. In this section, Bultz encourages the reader to “Create your own Master Agreement” by using as is, or modifying any of the wording, clauses, and provisions that he offers, to suit your own personal preferences. Enclosed on the inside of the back cover of this book is a CD of the book (licensed to the reader), from which one can download and print out directly, or modify on-line to personalize any of the clauses. Within each topic issue are numerous alternative clauses for most of the topics and issues. So, you just pick and choose which clause fits your particular case. For example, under the topic of “Support Waived,” you can choose from (and modify to your particular needs) any of the following clauses:

Due to Jane and John’s shared parenting arrangement and similar incomes, neither shall pay child support to the other at this time.
OR
Given Jane’s financial ability to fully support the children without assistance from John, she elects not to seek child support from John at this time.
OR
Given John’s other financial obligations he has agreed to herein, Jane elects not to seek child support from him unless there is a significant change in circumstance warranting such.
OR
John is disabled and receives Social Security disability payments. The child receives approximately $225 per month support as a result of John’s disability. Therefore, John shall not be required to pay child support at this time.

This “pick your own clause” is a very cool concept and will be especially helpful as a guide for beginning mediators, or even for more experienced mediators who have trouble coming up with clear and precise language and/or who lack a comprehensive template of the many issues that need to be addressed in a competent and comprehensive MSA.

Bultz invites readers to contact him to help him refine this publication for future editions. Among my suggestions would be to even out the number of sample clauses across the topics—some have only one example, while others have more than 10; use more non-stereotyped gender examples (i.e. the “visitation” parent is usually denoted as father); make the legal context of the narrative more national—he, unfortunately, too often used the default legal context as South Carolina [However, it should be noted that the book appears to be co-sponsored by The South Carolina Bar, Continuing Legal Education Division]. In spite of that, I think the overall document will have broad applicability nationally, since most of the issues are more generic. The book and CD sell for $155.95 and the CD alone for $119.00 and can be purchased here.

Biography


Donald T. Saposnek, Ph.D., is a clinical-child psychologist and family therapist in practice since 1971, a child custody mediator, trainer and consultant since 1977, and is a founding board member of the Academy of Professional Family Mediators and Editor of The Professional Family Mediator.  He has published extensively in the professional literature on child custody and child psychology and is on the editorial boards of the Family Court Review and the Conflict Resolution Quarterly journals. He is the author of Mediating Child Custody Disputes: A Strategic Approach, and co-author of Splitting America: How Politicians, Super Pacs and the News Media Mirror High Conflict Divorce. He has been teaching on the psychology faculty at the University of California, Santa Cruz since 1977, and is Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution. His website is: www.mediate.com/dsaposnek.

 



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