In some divorce cases, both spouses are able to reach an agreement on all of the issues they are facing during the dissolution of their marriage. An agreement is reached only after a long negotiation process between the attorneys involved or a formal mediation. The purpose of a marital settlement agreement is to formally document this agreement so that it may be submitted to the court for review, at which point the judge will then enter a final judgment to dissolve the marriage and make the terms of the marital settlement agreement legally binding and enforceable against both spouses.What Does the Marital Settlement Agreement Contain?
In short, the marital settlement agreement will document the resolution to every issue in the divorce case. This can include alimony, the distribution of assets and debts, the possession of personal property, child support, and parenting plans. The marital settlement agreement will also state the date of marriage, sometimes the date of separation, if there were any children born or adopted during the marriage, whether the marriage is irretrievably broken, if there were attorneys involved, and whether the parties have made a full disclosure of their assets and liabilities.
If one spouse will be waiving alimony, a provision in the marital settlement agreement should state that both parties are forever waiving any rights to alimony they may have. If no alimony is awarded to either spouse at the time of the final judgment, then no alimony can be added at a later date.
The division of property will be detailed within the marital settlement agreement, and usually a provision will be included regarding how to distribute any property not contained within the marital settlement agreement. For example, the marital settlement agreement may contain a provision stating that any property not listed should remain the property of the spouse currently in possession of it. This included all personal property, such as clothing, furniture, jewelry, tools and equipment, etc. If the spouses have a home or real property together, the marital settlement agreement will state how the parties decided to divide the property, whether one party will continue residing there or if the home will be sold and the proceeds divided. Any vehicles either spouse has will be listed along who will be keeping that vehicle.
If there are joint bank accounts or joint credit cards, the marital settlement agreement will specify which accounts are joint considered joint accounts, which spouse will be taking over the balance, whether the balance will be split between the parties, and when the joint accounts will be closed. If there are any retirement accounts, such as a 401k, pension, stocks, etc., the marital settlement agreement will state whose account it is, how it is being divided, the amount that each party is receiving, and whether a special court order called a QDRO will be needed to distribute it to the other spouse.
The marital settlement agreement may also discuss health/dental/vision/life insurance. Some insurance companies allow an ex-spouse to be covered under the other party's insurance while other insurance companies do not. Determining who will be the beneficiaries on life insurance policies held by either spouse should also be decided and included in the marital settlement agreement, particularly if there are children involved.
If one spouse desires to have their maiden name restored or have a name change done as part of the divorce, this should also be included in the marital settlement agreement with the correct spelling of the name.
When there is a discrepancy in the parties' incomes, spouses will often negotiate the payment of attorneys' fees. If one party has agreed to pay any attorneys' fees for the other party, this should be included in the marital settlement agreement, including any intent of the parties to have attorney's fees paid by one spouse or the other in the event the spouses need to return to court for any reason involving the dissolution of their marriage.
For divorces involving minor children, reaching an agreement can be particularly beneficial, as this can be the best way to ensure both parents continue to work together for the best interest of the children. A marital settlement agreement, or sometimes a separate parenting plan attached and incorporated into the marital settlement agreement, will detail the time-sharing schedule for the children, how holidays and school breaks will be spent, how parenting responsibilities will be divided and shared, and child support. Leaving these decisions to a judge, who will have to try and gather the needs and best interest of the children only from the information provided to the court, without any chance to meet or be familiar with the children, could result in a parenting plan that may not be best for anyone in the family, despite a court's best efforts to consider the children's best interests. It is important to note that while parents may reach an agreement on the issue of child support, a judge will review the agreed upon child support to ensure it is appropriate.What are the Benefits and Possible Concerns with Marital Settlement Agreements?
Coming to an agreement with your spouse on how the case should be settled allows you to avoid going to trial, where all issues that are still disputed will be resolved by the judge. When spouses need to go to trial and leave the ultimate decisions in the hands of a judge, it is not uncommon for both spouses to walk away unhappy with the results. Trials are also time consuming and expensive, costing thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees.
Marital settlement agreements should be clear, concise, and unambiguous. If a marital settlement agreement is not sufficiently detailed, the parties may need to go back to court after their divorce is finalized to dispute issues that are unclear or not addressed. While in some situations using a standardized agreement form or self-help form may be sufficient, these forms will often leave out critical details, or cause spouses to not address issues that may be present in their situation that are not brought up in those forms. For this reason and many others, it is best to have a martial settlement agreement completed or reviewed by an experienced family law attorney prior to it being submitted to the court.Contact Us Now for Your Free Consultation
Here at My Florida Family Law Firm, Adams & Luka, P.A., our experienced and dedicated family attorneys will ensure that any marital settlement agreement you may enter into is detailed and complete, addresses all of the issues in your case, and is in your best interest well before you sign your name to it. One of our main goals for each client is to have the transition of going from married to single be as smooth as possible, and often times a marital settlement agreement is a great way to achieve this. Our family attorneys are skilled negotiators who will fight to get you the best results without you having to spend unnecessary money and time taking your case to trial if possible. Call us for a free consultation 24/7 at 407-872-0303 or 352-357-4084.