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Civil Litigation, Divorce

Writing Your Own Marital Settlement Agreement

Writing a Marital Settlement Agreement

The key to a proper divorce is the MSA or “Marital Settlement Agreement.” The Florida Supreme Court has provided fill in the blank forms for this most important of all divorce documents and it can be found at:

While this is a great form for a very simple divorce, if you have assets, real property, children, debts, or any substantial problems at all, this form is going to cause many severe problems down the road.

Many people imagine that a judge determines the terms of a divorce. Nothing could be further from the truth. Judges hear actual contested divorce in maybe one out of thousand cases. The reality is that the terms of the divorce are negotiated and agreed upon by the parties themselves. The contract that contains all the terms of the divorce is call a “marital settlement agreement”, which may otherwise be referred to as a “property settlement agreement” in some instances. A copy of the marital settlement agreement is attached to the final divorce decree and incorporated in it. The marital settlement agreement creates the legally-enforceable obligations which the court then adopts and requires the parties to comply with..

A good MSA should cover each and every term of the divorce, including those that the parties believe don’t need to be put in writing. At a minimum the MSA should set forth:

1. A Parenting Agreement which sets out legal custody, a visitation schedule, and all other issues relating to raising the minor children.

2. A child support section which completely spells out the basis for the support, how it re4lates to income and expenses of the parties, and addresses the amount of child support to be paid per month, how the child support is to be paid, when the child support terminates, and any penalties for missed payment.

3. An agreement as to alimony, if agreed to, stating whether the support is temporary or permanent, the grounds for the alimony, the terms of a rehabilitation plan if applicable, , the amount of the monthly support, how it is to be paid, when and under what conditions the support will terminate, and whether the support is terminable or not.

4. A detailed list of the personal property, furnishings, and automobiles each party is to keep.

5. A provision relating to what is to become of the marital home (where applicable) and specifying who lives in it, how it is to be sold, who is to pay expenses, etc.
6. Detailed instructions regarding how the parties are to file their income tax returns in the future.
7. A provision detailing the total amount of marital debt and which party is responsible for which debt, how it will be paid and when.

8. A provision stating how the parties shall resolve any disputes that arise between them in the future.

Courts realize that many marital settlement agreements are hard fought victories, and are reluctant to interfere in agreements negotiated between the parties. However, there are certain situations in which the court will reject a marital settlement agreement in whole or in part.

While many people do write up their own MSA, it’s a good idea to have an attorney at least look over the terms of your agreement. The main reason for this is that family law attorneys have seen a variety of issues come back to haunt parties who didn’t have air tight marital settlement agreements covering a multitude of contingencies. An attorney will be able to suggest proper legal language, highlight any important terms that you may have missed, and ensure that your legal rights are protected. Ideally, two parties who have reached an agreement would hire an attorney to write up the marital settlement agreement on their behalf, following a detailed list of the terms of the agreement.

Finally, no matter who drafts your marital settlement agreement, make sure that you read it thoroughly and think it through before signing it. DO NOT RUSH..YOU WILL REGRET IT. Highlight any terms and wording that you don’t understand. Do not sign a marital settlement agreement until you are certain that you understand every word on every page of the agreement.

If you find yourself in such a position it is best to consult an attorney with substantial experience. There are so many different circumstances that a proper answer to your particular problem can only be obtained by a trained and experienced lawyer.

If you have any question regarding this or any other legal matter our firm may be able to help you. Please contact Jupiter Legal Advocates at (561) 748-8000 or email us at for further information and assistance. We try our very best to respond immediately.

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