Great question. Here’s a good summary taken from the world of contract law (frankly, the definition of the term “best efforts” likely applies equally well when the term is utilized in a settlement agreement and/or court order in the divorce and family law context):
Best efforts is a contractual term used to obligate the parties to make their best attempt to accomplish a goal, typically used when there is uncertainty about the ability to meet the goal. Courts have not required that a party under a duty to use best efforts to accomplish a given goal make every available effort to do so, regardless of the harm to [the party].
Best Efforts means the efforts that a prudent Person desirous of achieving a result would use in similar circumstances to ensure that such result is achieved as expeditiously as possible; provided, however, that an obligation to use Best Efforts under this Agreement does not require the Person subject to that obligation to take actions that would result in a materially adverse change in the benefits to such Person of this Agreement and the Contemplated Transactions.
Usually used in contracts. It means putting forth one’s best efforts, a higher standard of effort than mere reasonable efforts or commercially reasonable efforts. If it can be done, even if at a very high cost, then the effort may be required under the agreement, while commercially reasonable efforts would not require the same.
And this is a great treatment of the question of what “best efforts” means in the context of contract law (but as I stated above, the definition likely applies equally well when the term “best efforts” is utilized in a settlement agreement and/or court order in the divorce and family law context):
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