How to Tell if You Need a Marital Settlement Agreement for Divorce or Legal Separation

Posted by Greg Gilston

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Ok. So you’re getting a divorce. You and your spouse have agreed that the marriage is no longer working. You’ve grown apart and your relationship has changed. You will both go your separate ways and continue on with life. So it’s settled then, right? Well, not quite. It’s not always that simple, as most of us know either through experience or hearsay.

There are many aspects of a divorce agreement, which include alimony, child support, the division of marital property, and custody. These are all important things in one’s life, and thus, they may not be so easily allocated during the divorce process. When spouses begin to discuss the division of their assets and parental privileges, things can become a bit heated. In a perfect world, everybody would agree. But we all know that the concept of perfection is far from attainable, and so we must try our best to approach this tender situation in an amicable way once disagreement occurs.

 

At this point, you may be asking yourself the following question; How exactly do I go about achieving this? Well, please allow me to explain one of the more concrete options that you have during your divorce; the Marital Settlement Agreement for divorce or separation.

 

What is a Marital Settlement Agreement?

Sometimes referred to as a divorce agreement, property settlement agreement, a marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation is a legal contract which indicates how you intend to divide your assets and debts, as well as spousal support and/or child support. It can also include a parenting plan. In Pennsylvania, for example, a marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation is legally binding for both you and your spouse. It acts as an explicit means of spelling out the terms of the divorce, as well as the relationship that will play out between you and your spouse after the divorce is finalized.  Furthermore, it allows for both of you to collaborate and construct the terms of the divorce, instead of having a Judge decide these terms for you.

 

Am I required to get a Marital Settlement Agreement to get a divorce?

It depends on the state. You are not required to get a marital settlement agreement in the state of Pennsylvania, for example. If you do not have any marital property, joint debt or children together under the age of 18, then you probably do not need one.

 

 

Do I need legal representation to get a Marital Settlement Agreement?

No, you do not necessarily need legal representation to get a marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation in the state of Pennsylvania. However, it might be in your best interest to have some sort of legal representation during the divorce process in order to effectively voice your needs if you need help doing so while working to formulate the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation.

 

Who should be involved with the drafting of my Marital Settlement Agreement?

If you are trying to avoid the influence of the courts, then the terms of the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation should be decided on collaboratively, between both you and your spouse. You have the option of hiring an experienced PA lawyer or mediator to help you draft this legal document if you feel that you need some professional assistance. If you decide that you can do this without the assistance of a professional, then you have the option of utilizing an online legal service such as RocketLawyer or Main Line Family Law Center’s SimpleDivorce Filer.

 

Most divorcing couples construct the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation with the help of a mediator or litigator. However, if you and your spouse decide that the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation is a task that you can take on without professional assistance, then it is important to keep in mind that all aspects of the divorce should be explicitly specified within the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation. For example, if you are reviewing the topic of financials, then you will need to discuss how you and your spouse will divide entities such as your retirement plan. Or, if you and your spouse are discussing parent-child relationships, then you will need to indicate exactly when each parent will have the opportunity to spend time with the kids.

 

In order to clarify the steps involved with drafting your own marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation, I asked attorney and mediator Cris Pastore of Main Line Family Law Center if he had any advice for those who intend on drafting the marital settlement without the help of a legal professional. He responded by providing the following tips:

  1. Make sure that you are both amicable and have a basic level of trust in one another, and that you each intend to negotiate in good faith with full disclosure of everything.
  2. Make sure that there are no power imbalances between you and your spouse, which may result in one of you overreaching in the negotiations.
  3. Do your homework so that each of you can become as educated and as informed as possible about the process of divorce and how it works.
  4. Make sure that you have addressed and included everything that is important, and that you both agree and do not leave any loose ends open.
  5. Once the terms of the divorce are in place, it is recommended that the couple visit with a neutral divorce attorney and run the agreement by them for their feedback and to make sure that they have considered everything and have not overlooked anything.

Additionally, Cris Pastore describes the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation as “the bible for any divorce”. Because the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation serves to map out the exact details of the divorce, and because it is legally binding, it is very important that all aspects of the divorce are covered in this document. When push comes to shove, given that the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation is so intricately constructed, it would be beneficial for you and your spouse to consult with a mediator or attorney. Furthermore, if there is any sort of disagreement within your marital settlement discussion, it would be wise to employ a divorce attorney or mediator to assist you in the process of formulating the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation.

 

What goes into a Marital Settlement Agreement?

 

The marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation can include a variety of terms, which pertain to topics such as property, accounts, debts, child support, child welfare, personal welfare, alimony, and all other aspects of one’s interpersonal or financial circumstances. Basically anything that was once shared as a couple or a family can be negotiated and mapped out within the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation.

 

 

How would a Marital Settlement Agreement help my divorce process move forward?

The divorce process in Pennsylvania can be a tough process to deal with. It can be an emotional process, and it can take a long time for everybody to agree upon everything. The more aspects of the divorce that you and your spouse do not agree upon, the more likely it is that the process will take longer to go through with, thus making it even tougher to handle.

 

Eventually, you might even feel the need to take the divorce to the courts. But when a divorce is taken to the courts, the process moves very slowly. This is because lawyers and judges are often swamped with other cases, in which there are also many terms that need to be mapped out and agreed upon before the divorce can be finalized.

 

Pennsylvania laws serve to establish procedures for resolving disagreements within the divorce process. These procedures often include mandated hearings, conferences, and trials, which will take a lot of your time and a lot of your money. With that being said, if court involvement appeals to you, then by all means go for it. But for those of us who would rather preserve our time, money, patience, and overall well-being, we might want to find another way to go about the divorce process. Enter the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation.

 

How does the Marital Settlement Agreement work when a mediator is involved?

In order to avoid having the terms of the divorce be settled by a judge in court, it’s obvious at this point that your best option would be to construct a marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation. Mediators can be very useful in the construction of the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation. Cris Pastore described the role of the mediator as an unbiased professional who “is there to navigate and guide them through the process, while educating them on the basic legal concepts and how they work and apply in a divorce.” The ultimate goal of the mediator during this part of the divorce process is to collaborate with you and your spouse to identify acceptable terms for the divorce, which will serve to satisfy both of your needs going forward.

 

The divorce mediator will hope to achieve this in an efficient and amicable manner. He or she will ensure that all of the terms that you worked so hard to negotiate – whether it’s property division, providing for your children, or financial assistance to a spouse post-divorce – will be put into the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation once the terms have been agreed upon.

 

So What's the "Big Deal" Do We Really Need a Marital Settlement Agreement? 

I spoke to Michael Kleiman of Bleczinski, Kleiman & Klein, LLC, and he said the following comments about the importance of getting a marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation:

 

“The key to the martial settlement agreement is that it’s a means to resolve the case without the financial and emotional expense of litigation. What I find is that the agreement is kind of a final work product of a negotiated settlement. What should happen when all is said and done is that both parties will feel more content with the outcome because they fully participated in the process. It is very important to be content with the process. And there is a higher likelihood that you will be content if you remain an active participant. If you’re directly involved within the process of the agreement then you can directly contribute to the outcome.”

 

Michael continued his thoughts on the marital settlement agreement with the following statements...

 

“In an marital settlement agreement you can address all the anticipated details, twists, and turns that could take place within the divorce process. Both parties involved have some measure of control over the process. Therefore, there’s a higher likelihood, that if you’re doing it by agreement, you will end up having a more peaceful relationship with the person you are divorcing. This is important because the relationship does not end when the divorce decree begins.”

 

I then asked Michael what his clients would consider to be one of the major incentives when drafting an marital settlement agreement. He replied by saying the following:

 

“The nice thing about the agreement is that you can work to finalize the process without the pressure that comes with being in a courtroom. Often times, things can feel a bit rushed when you’re in a courtroom setting. Because the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation can be such an important document, it needs a lot of attention. And sometimes, the matters that are drawn out within the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation might not get enough attention in the courtroom.”

 

Agree To Agree

Alright. So now you know a bit about the purpose and usefulness of the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation. Whether or not you choose to utilize this document, well that’s up to you. If there’s one thing that we can probably agree upon though, it’s that it is not always easy to agree with another person, especially when that person is the one you are attempting to divorce. That does not necessarily mean that the divorce process has to be difficult though.

 

It’s true that the divorce process in PA can be a short process or a very long process. It can also be financially straining, emotionally exhausting, both, or neither. However, there are aspects of the divorce that would make it a smoother process overall, and one of these includes the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation. So if you and your spouse can muster up the motivation and try your best to collaborate on one last project together, you might want that project to be the the marital settlement agreement for divorce or separation because it clearly is a helpful document when trying to expedite the unpredictable process that is divorce.

 

 

 

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Topics: divorce in PA, Healthy Legal Options, Simple Divorce

Greg Gilston is a contributing writer with the Main Line Family Law Center's blog. He works as a mental health counselor and consultant, and has a variety of experience working with families, couples, groups, and individuals within the therapeutic process. After receiving a B.A. in Psychology and an M.A. in Mental Health Counseling, Greg will be continuing his education as a law student at Temple University pursuing a J.D. degree in their part-time evening program. Greg is hoping to move his career towards the intersection of mental health and the law, working as a collaborative lawyer on important family matters such as custody and divorce.