A marital settlement agreement (MSA) is a contract between you and your spouse, resolving issues raised in your divorce. You and your spouse can include provisions for child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, property division, and other critical matters. Although you and your spouse can write your own MSA, this isn’t always the best path. Divorces are complicated, and how things are resolved will affect your family dynamics and future. You must ensure that your rights and best interests are protected when signing and submitting an MSA. Additionally, your agreement must be completed correctly; otherwise, the court will reject it. You can have a family law lawyer help negotiate, draft, and review the terms of your MSA.
What Is a Marital Settlement Agreement?
In a divorce, certain issues must be settled. One option for resolving things is having a court decide. A judge will review your circumstances and apply California laws and their discretion to determine the outcome. This path is typically necessary in cases where the couple cannot see eye to eye. Yet, it takes agency away from you and your spouse because certain factors of your lives are left in the hands of a judge unfamiliar with your situation. Additionally, it requires that you and your spouse attend various court hearings to complete your divorce.
An alternative method for settling divorce-related matters is by developing an MSA. With this avenue, you and your spouse work together on resolutions. You include your agreements in the settlement form and present them to the court for approval. This option allows you to avoid litigation, which can be a money and time saver.
What Do You Include in an MSA?
You can cover any and all divorce-related matters in your marital settlement agreement.
This includes the following:
- Divorce agreement: Your MSA must include text indicating that both you and your spouse agree to the dissolution of marriage.
- Child custody and visitation: You and your spouse can decide on sole or joint physical or legal custody. You can also include provisions concerning visitation for the non-custodial parent.
- Child support: You and your spouse can agree on who will pay child support and what amount.
- Spousal support: If you or your spouse will pay or receive spousal support, you can include this in your MSA.
- Property division: You and your spouse can make fair distributions of your community property.
How Do You Write Up a Marital Settlement Agreement?
You and your spouse can write up an MSA on your own. However, this avenue may prove challenging and overwhelming because your decisions will affect your future, and you want to be sure that your best interests are protected. Additionally, the provisions must contain specific wording to be accepted by the court.
Rather than drafting an MSA yourselves, you can each turn to a lawyer for assistance. They can help with negotiations to facilitate a just division of property, fair support payments, and reasonable provisions for other matters.
If you and your spouse have already developed an MSA, an attorney can review it. They can ensure that you understand the terms, identify anything that may trample on your rights, and that the provisions are consistent with what you and your spouse had agreed on.
Another avenue you can go for writing up an MSA is mediation. With this method, a neutral third party helps you and your spouse work through your differences. The mediator does not make decisions for you but keeps talks on course, allowing you and your spouse to come to agreements yourselves.
Even if you choose to pursue mediation, you and your spouse can each retain separate legal counsel. Your attorney can provide advice throughout the mediation process.
What Happens After You Complete the MSA?
Once your MSA is completed and signed, you submit it to the court. A judge will review your agreement to ensure that all is fair. If they approve it, they’ll sign it.
After your MSA is filed with the court, it becomes a legal, court-enforceable document. You and your spouse are expected to follow the terms of your agreement. If one of you fails to comply (e.g., not making child or spousal support payments or giving up certain property), the injured party may file a petition with the court to enforce the order.
Retain Legal Counsel for Your Case
Although you and your spouse might agree on resolving divorce-related issues and developing an MSA might seem straightforward, you might run into complications. To avoid errors or unjust settlements, have an attorney assist with your marital settlement agreement.
At Claery & Hammond, LLP, our Los Angeles attorneys provide skilled legal representation for family law matters. Schedule a consultation by calling us at (310) 817-6904 or contacting us online.