If Your Case Settles- Preparing a Marital Settlement Agreement
If your case settles, your attorney will prepare a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) or a Stipulated Judgment that contains all the terms of your settlement.
Every issue in your divorce, such as the division of property, custody, and support will need to be addressed in this document. This written and signed agreement is then submitted to the court for approval and the judge's signature.
Every issue in your divorce, such as the division of property, custody, and support will need to be addressed in this document.
Who Prepares the Marital Settlement Agreement?
While one of the attorneys will prepare the agreement, the other attorney will review, revise, and eventually approve the Marital Settlement Agreement. After an agreement is reached, you'll want to consider which attorney you would like to prepare the final settlement agreement.
Your attorney may prefer to prepare the MSA to ensure that the agreement is favorable to you and that certain procedural or enforcement provisions are in the document, rather than trying to add them later to opposing counsel's proposed settlement agreement.
Be prepared for a lengthy document. Attorneys seldom agree on how much is enough: your spouse's attorney may take 10 pages for the same agreement your attorney might do in five. Focus on the quality of the provisions, rather than the number and length of them.
What Information Does the Marital Settlement Agreement Contain?
In addition to containing every issue in your case you can expect to find provisions you didn't expressly agree to, which are necessary to carry out the spirit and intent of your settlement. Useful schedules are likely to be included or attached, as well as setting forth the details of property distributions.
While your role was critical in reaching settlement, now all you can do is read. Make sure you understand, confirm that all the terms are included, and read and understand the additional language. Be sure to ask more questions until you are comfortable that the terms are written the way you agreed.
Some terms are carried out immediately, such as "The 2005 BMW goes to the husband." Others are ongoing but limited, e.g., "Wife shall assume all responsibility for the parties' debt to Rockbrook Savings and Loan."
Still other terms may be ongoing, unlimited, and subject to modification, such as, "Husband shall pay to wife on the first day of each and every month hereafter the sum of eight hundred dollars as spousal support until the death of either, remarriage by wife or further order of court."
Make Sure You Are Satisfied With All of the Terms of the MSA
The provisions will be grouped for convenient reference. Child support terms and spousal support terms are court orders and enforceable by contempt if not complied with. Others may not be directly enforceable and will require a separate lawsuit, such as an action for breach of contract. Ask your attorney if you have any questions about enforcement. Every provision of your MSA is intended to be binding and enforceable, one way or another.
Custody and visitation schedules can be confusing. If needed, clean yours up now to prevent a dispute somewhere down the line. Make certain the document contains every term of the agreement that you intended to make with your spouse.
Ask your attorney about every provision not previously discussed. Question every discrepancy with your recollection of the settlement. Raise every concern you have about the meaning of terms. When you sign the Marital Settlement or Stipulated Judgment, IT IS FINAL. You are represented by counsel and you are a competent adult, which means you will not be able to change your mind about the terms with which you have agreed. Your settlement agreement will then go to the court to have a judgment entered.
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California Divorce Guide