Divorce Settlement Agreement

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A divorce settlement agreement is a legally binding contract between divorcing spouses, detailing their rights, obligations, and responsibilities after divorce. The agreement will put into writing everything that you have agreed upon and is enforceable in court. Outline your requests and needs in this template on Lawrina and download the prepared document in minutes.

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Paper titled "Divorce Settlement Agreement", rings, broken heart, car keys, house keys, arguing couple

Before getting a final decree of divorce, divorcing couples should first map out the fine points of what will govern the future relationship with their former spouse. Unfortunately, the emotionally demanding nature of this process can leave one or both spouses vulnerable to costly omissions, allowing important issues to potentially slip under the radar. To help put things into focus, our divorce settlement agreement template is a comprehensive catalog of crucial considerations to help ensure that your post-divorce needs are met.

What Is a Divorce Settlement Agreement?

When couples are going through a divorce, often the only certainty is that at least one of the parties feels that the marriage has outlived its purpose. The couple will need to resolve a lot of uncertainties relating to property, marital assets, debts, child custody, and more. In one example, if one or both spouses own certain intangible assets, such as trademarks, they may need to include a trademark assignment agreement to transfer ownership of the trademark.

To amicably settle these matters, spouses can create and sign a written divorce settlement agreement that lays out the terms of their newly separated lives. This document is a legally binding agreement that details how the former spouses will separate their lives and move forward as individuals. This agreement covers everything from property division to child custody. A divorce settlement agreement for divorce can be known by different names depending on the location or method with which it is formed, including:

  • Separation and Property Settlement Agreement (PSA)

  • Custody, Support, and Property Agreement

  • Mediated Separation Agreement

  • Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA)

  • Collaborative Settlement Agreement

  • Divorce settlement agreement (DSA)

Regardless of the name, the point of a divorce settlement agreement is for the spouses to agree on the terms of their divorce. If the spouses can agree, whether independently or with help from attorneys or a mediator, the divorce case will not need to go to trial. If the spouses cannot agree, the decision of who gets what assets, debts, and even children will be made by the judge. 

A well-considered settlement gives the judge the impression that the spouses, despite the intended split, have diligently and carefully considered the implications of all the issues. After both parties have signed the divorce settlement agreement, they still need the judge’s approval to make it binding and enforceable. The document is filed with the court and made part of the divorce judgment, otherwise known as the divorce decree.

Insight

A distinction must be made between the terms “divorce” and “separation.” Separation occurs before a divorce. Though many couples choose to separate for a time before deciding to go through with a divorce, many states require spouses to live separately or follow specific rules regarding their living arrangements for a minimum amount of time for a divorce to be considered valid under state law.

Parties of the Divorce Settlement Agreement

Two parties are required to form a valid marriage. Therefore, it follows that two parties must reach a divorce settlement agreement to dissolve a marriage amicably, namely: 

  • Petitioner/Plaintiff: This is the spouse who initiates the divorce process by filing a petition or complaint. This spouse provides his or her grounds for seeking a divorce. In the divorce settlement agreement, this party communicates his or her expectations on matters like property division, alimony, child custody, and support.

  • Respondent/Defendant: This is the spouse who receives the divorce petition and responds to the claims made by the petitioner. During settlement, this spouse gives his or her perspective on the proposed expectations. Respondents are expected to negotiate the terms and suggest changes to the parts of the divorce settlement agreement that don’t reflect their wishes.
Insight

Most experts suggest that each spouse should have his or her lawyer review the agreement. Having their own legal advisors can help them more fully understand what it really means to sign the agreement. Both spouses should understand the legal, financial, and emotional implications before signing the document.

Key Terms

Some key terms that are likely to be in a divorce settlement agreement include:

  1. Property/Asset Division: Details how marital property — assets acquired during the marriage — will be divided between the spouses. Those assets can include real estate, bank accounts, investments, vehicles, and personal belongings.

  2. Debts and Liabilities: Specifies how debts and liabilities acquired during the marriage will be allocated between the spouses.

  3. Alimony/Spousal Support: States whether one spouse will provide financial support to the other after the divorce is final and names the payment amount and schedule. 

  4. Child Custody and Visitation: Lists custodial arrangements, including legal custody (decision-making authority) and physical custody (residential arrangements). Also included is a visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent to spend time with the children. 

  5. Child Support: Describes the financial support one spouse will provide to the other to take care of their children. This includes guidelines for calculating the amount and procedures for future modifications.

  6. Health Insurance & Medical Expenses: Addresses how health insurance coverage for the children (and sometimes the former spouse) will be maintained and the formula for sharing medical bills. 

  7. Education and Extracurricular Activities: States the couple’s decisions regarding the children’s education, school choices, and participation in extracurricular activities, including which parent is responsible for related expenses.

  8. Relocation: Details how potential moves of either parent will be handled, especially when a move might impact custody/visitation.

  9. Tax Considerations: Outlines how tax exemptions, deductions, and credits related to children and spousal support will be handled post-divorce.

  10. Name Change: States whether one spouse will revert to his or her maiden or previous name, if applicable.

  11. Confidentiality and Non-Disparagement: Contains provisions preventing the parties from discussing the divorce or each other negatively in public or on social media.

  12. Dispute Resolution: Stipulates methods for resolving disputes that may arise between the parties after the divorce, such as mediation or arbitration. A cost-effective method that is usually preferred is mediation.

Purposes of a Divorce Settlement Agreement

A divorce settlement agreement is a comprehensive structured framework to help resolve post-divorce matters that can include the division of property and assets, spousal support, child custody, visitation schedules, and child support. Since terms of the divorce settlement agreement are mutually agreed upon and legally binding, it lowers the likelihood of conflicts and uncertainties, which can make post-divorce life easier for the former spouses.

The divorce settlement agreement is also a tool for avoiding protracted litigation. It allows the parties to maintain control over the outcomes and safeguard individual rights while facilitating an amicable resolution that yields the best outcome. A divorce settlement agreement template that is broad in its scope is incredibly useful in covering an extremely wide range of post-divorce issues. 

What Should Be Included in a Divorce Settlement Agreement?

To draft a comprehensive divorce settlement agreement, include the key aspects of the dissolution of a marriage. Minimally, these should include:

  • Division of assets and liabilities

  • Child custody and visitation arrangements

  • Child and spousal support details

  • Allocation of retirement and pension accounts

  • Healthcare and insurance provisions

  • Division or transfer of any real estate properties

  • Tax implications

  • Legal fees

  • Dispute resolution methods

  • Process for modifying the agreement in the future if circumstances change

Covering all of these aspects can be difficult, but a divorce settlement agreement template can help make this process quick and easy. 

How To Write a Divorce Settlement Agreement

Putting together a divorce settlement agreement requires more than just writing skills. It often requires not only attention to detail but also negotiation, mediation, and conciliation skills. The process of creating a divorce agreement involves the following three main steps.

1. Coordinate With the Counterpart

Any divorce settlement agreement begins with a willingness of the parties to reach an amicable settlement. Each spouse must at least agree to negotiate and attempt to reach reasonable compromises with the other spouse. 

2. Negotiate Key Terms

The spouses must communicate in order to agree to the essential terms of the divorce settlement agreement. These essential terms were listed above and include division of assets and care and custody of the couple’s minor children.

3. Fill In All the Necessary Information

After negotiating, the spouses will need to document the agreed terms in the divorce settlement agreement. Once the document is signed and accepted by the court, these terms will be binding and enforceable as part of the divorce decree.

When To Use a Divorce Settlement Agreement

Couples use divorce settlement agreements in no-fault divorces. This is when neither spouse formally blames the other for the failure of the marriage. In these cases, the DSA outlines the who-gets-what for the property, alimony, child custody, support arrangements, and other financial and logistical issues.

Ultimately, the divorce settlement agreement provides a predictable structure for spouses looking to avoid future conflicts that are likely to be toxic for their children. It also helps them enjoy cordial post-divorce relations. 

Common Use Cases

Some of the most common reasons a couple will choose to negotiate a divorce settlement agreement include:

  • Avoiding court trials — Facing the cost and uncertainty of a trial encourages many divorcing couples to reach an agreement on their terms. 
  • Establishing clarity and certainty — The terms of a divorce can sometimes be mired in confusion, creating avoidable conflicts. A divorce settlement agreement helps to eliminate many confusing issues.  
  • Providing protection — DSAs are meant to protect the interests of both spouses. For instance, the document can protect a spouse against getting a disproportionate share of the assets or paying more child support than is affordable.
  • Moving on with post-divorce life — When resolving all outstanding issues in divorce, spouses can put the past behind them and focus on the future.

When Not To Use the Divorce Settlement Agreement

A divorce settlement agreement may not be the best option if the settlement talks break down due to unreasonable demands from an unyielding spouse. If you have valid concerns about whether your spouse will abide by the agreed terms, taking the divorce to trial might be a better option. Going to trial might also be better if your divorce involves complex financial issues like business ownership or debts.

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Please note that Lawrina does not provide any legal services. The information on Lawrina’s Site and its downloadable content, including legal articles and templates, shall not be considered legal advice and is not guaranteed to be correct, complete, and up-to-date. If you require legal advice on your issue, we recommend you contact a qualified attorney licensed in your state. You personally assume full responsibility for any consequences, damages, and costs associated with your use of any content of Lawrina Services available on Lawrina’s Site.

By using Lawrina’s Site you agree with mentioned above and give your irrevocable consent to comply with and to be bound by the provisions of Lawrina Service terms. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do we need to enter into a divorce settlement before we separate?

When couples separate, they are likely at odds with each other. Being constantly embroiled in everyday disputes can hamper your chances of reaching an amicable settlement. Therefore, the more natural order of events is for couples to first separate and subsequently iron out the details of their divorce settlement agreement. With that being said, a couple remains free to enter into a settlement at any point in the divorce process.

Do I need an attorney to prepare the divorce settlement agreement?

With divorce settlement agreement templates available online, spouses can easily agree to a settlement. However, the couple may want to consult with a lawyer (together) or lawyers (separately) to help ensure that the document addresses all important matters according to state law.

 

The self-oriented nature of a divorce means that each spouse is likely to put his or her interests before the other’s and, possibly, even the children’s. Therefore, it may be helpful to have an attorney draft the agreement or review a divorce settlement agreement that the couple prepared from a template or that one spouse’s attorney prepared. 

 

During settlement proceedings, the terms in a divorce settlement agreement can be difficult for many people to understand. Phrases like “sole legal custody,” “exclusive possession,” “timely indemnify and hold harmless,” and “relinquish and waive all future claims” may need careful explanation if they are to be included in a divorce settlement agreement. A lawyer who is experienced in family law can help to clarify the legalese, allowing each spouse to feel more confident about what he or she is signing.

What if we settle everything before going to court?

If a couple can settle all matters together or through their legal representation, then their divorce will not have to go to trial. After each spouse agrees, a lawyer or mediator can draw up the divorce settlement agreement for signing.

 

Once signed, the document becomes a binding contract between the former spouses. In compliance with state law, the judge may review the divorce settlement agreement to ensure that the terms are fair for both the spouses and their children. Once approved, the agreement becomes part of the divorce judgment. Failure of a former spouse to comply with the terms can cause him or her to be found in contempt of court. 

If my spouse and I agree, can we write our own agreement?

If both spouses agree on the terms, they may be able to draft their own document or use a divorce settlement agreement template. Even when drafting an agreement or customizing a template, divorcing spouses may want to consult with local divorce attorneys for help ensuring that all the terms are clear and avoid the following: 

  • Violating state laws;
  • Negatively impacting either spouse’s rights;
  • Leaving out required legal provisions; and 
  • Creating confusion about how assets are divided and what happens if either party fails to comply.
What if my ex-spouse violates the terms of the divorce agreement?

If your former spouse violates the terms of the agreement, you can file a motion for contempt of court to enforce your divorce settlement agreement. When a violation causes financial harm, you can also file a civil claim for compensation. However, you will be required to prove the harm and the damage suffered.

Can I change the terms of the divorce agreement after it’s signed?

When your divorce settlement agreement becomes part of your divorce judgment, you can make changes later subject to a judge’s approval, state laws, and the terms of the agreement itself. Judges only allow changes if there has been a shift in the life of a former spouse that may render him or her unable to fulfill the obligations under the divorce settlement agreement. 

 

A motion to modify the terms may be in order if a change in one or both spouses’ circumstances means that the divorce agreement is no longer fair. A good example would be a loss of income that limits a former spouse from paying child support in full or a change in work schedule that causes an inability to adhere to the agreed visitation times.

What if I don’t like my spouse’s proposed divorce agreement?

If you don’t agree with any part of a proposed divorce settlement agreement, don’t sign the document. Unfortunately, some spouses may resort to tactics like gaslighting, tight response deadlines, and emotional blackmail to compel their spouse to sign unfavorable terms. Don’t let these tricks keep you from carefully considering every issue. 

 

When heading into negotiations, be sure to show good faith. Attempt to discuss each issue calmly until both spouses can come to an agreement or an amicable compromise. 

 

Divorcing spouses looking to cut costs may want to read over a sample for a divorce settlement agreement on Lawrina to use as a guide for the issues that need to be decided. Even if they agree, many couples may still choose to seek legal support from an experienced family law attorney before moving forward. Either way, it is important to accurately gauge how well the divorce settlement agreement will protect the interest of each party and, if necessary, negotiate better terms. 

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