What is a Marital Settlement Agreement?

The statistics on divorce rates are staggering, and even marriages that start out strong may end up in divorce. Therefore, it’s essential to learn all you can about the process of divorce, how it works, and how it can affect you. 


The Marital Settlement Agreement

One aspect of divorce is the marriage settlement agreement. These contracts may also be called “divorce settlement agreements” or something else, depending on where you live.

The marriage settlement agreement (MSA) is a legally binding contract that details the specifics of your divorce and will include things like:

  • The division of property (assets and debts).
  • Child custody and visitation. 
  • Alimony or other spousal support.
  • Child support payments.
  • Pension/retirement accounts. 


The Division of Property

First, the agreement outlines the complete list of marital property (assets and debts owned by both of you) and how it will be divided in the divorce. Typically, state law requires that things like real estate, jewelry, mortgages, other loans, credit cards, bank accounts, investments, and business holdings to be included in the settlement.


Child Custody and Timesharing

If the couple has children, the MSA will detail several items relating to the care and custody of the children. For example, the agreement will spell out who will pay child support and how much, a timesharing agreement for custody, school, and recreational activities, and how they will be funded. Other things that affect the children will also be included, such as health insurance, college tuition, and any decisions that need to be made jointly about the child’s health and wellbeing. 


Alimony or Other Spousal Support

The contract will also include alimony or other types of spousal support and whether it is to be paid temporarily during the divorce or indefinitely. The amount will be specified in the agreement along with the term and how alimony will end. Additionally, the contract may have a stipulation about life insurance to provide alimony in the event of the paying spouses’ death.


Child Support Payments

Each state has specific guidelines regarding child support payments. Your divorce settlement agreement will detail how much child support is necessary and which spouse will be responsible for paying the other. Child support is a state-regulated item and not subject to the couple’s wishes. The state uses a formula to calculate the amount. Nonpayment of child support can result in serious legal issues, including fines and confinement. 


Pension or Other Retirement Accounts

Any other income or assets the couple owns will also be calculated into the settlement agreement and divided according to state law.

The marriage settlement agreement is an important document that outlines life after divorce and each party’s responsibilities. If either spouse fails to comply with the MSA, you do have legal options. Consult your divorce attorney for assistance with enforcing your marriage settlement agreement to make sure you are getting precisely what you are owed. 


About the Author: Roger Slade is a shareholder with the Miami law firm of Haber Law. Mr. Slade is an AV-rated commercial litigator with over 30 years of litigation experience. Throughout his career, Mr. Slade has handled all types of litigation matters including business fraud, class-actions for both Plaintiffs and Defendants, real estate litigation, privacy litigation, commercial collection matters, employment discrimination claims, general business disputes and international family law matters.