A divorce settlement agreement (also known as a marital settlement agreement) can speed up the divorce process and avoid a costly trial. It depends, though, on whether the divorcing spouses agree with each other on all matters of the divorce. If so, here’s what you need to know about divorce settlement agreements, and how you can safeguard your rights while making one.
Let’s set some ground rules first. This is a guide but not a comprehensive guide. Even a twenty thousand word book could not describe every possible problem that may arise for every couple contemplating a divorce. Even with a seemingly uncontested divorce. At the bottom of the learning curve, whenever we face a new experience, it is rare that we even know what the right questions are to ask. In divorce, in this life changing event, that is what legal counsel is for, to make sure the right questions get asked. And answered.
A divorce settlement agreement is a written document that details the spouses’ mutual decisions on divorce matters including property division, alimony, child custody, and child support (if applicable). Once the divorcing parties have completed, signed, and notarized this paper, they can submit it to the court for review. If the judge approves the agreement, it will become part of the final divorce decree, making it legally binding and enforceable.
Divorce settlement agreements are usually part of an uncontested divorce, where the spouses have no dispute regarding any divorce matter. Couples who have disputes may still produce a settlement agreement after they resolve their conflicts through methods such as mediation.
The divorce settlement agreement comes as a form that contains the following sections:
If the spouses have a child together, the divorce settlement agreement form should also have these sections:
The marital settlement agreement form may be available from your county’s Superior Court clerk, likely as part of the Uncontested Divorce packet. Check the court’s website for their downloadable forms.
You may also see other unaffiliated websites offering a settlement agreement template or a document preparation service for a fee. Though these seem like easy options for a “DIY divorce,” you’ll want to exercise caution as you’re dealing with legal documents that dictate your divorce outcome.
The biggest caveat with DIY forms is that you have to ensure they are legally sound and that they protect your interests. You need to ask questions such as: Have my spouse and I made the best decisions, in legal and financial terms? Is our agreement fair to both of us? Are we accomplishing this form correctly?
Before even starting on the form, you and your spouse will have to discuss your incomes, expenses, assets, and debts. This will require a good grasp of related laws such as property law and taxation.
It’s worth it to have a divorce lawyer’s assistance when preparing your divorce settlement agreement. At the very least, consult with a trusted divorce attorney about your rights and entitlements, and how you can craft a valid agreement with your spouse without being taken advantage of.
Whether you’re a husband or wife, you can ask for things that are reasonable for you to receive and for your spouse to give upon divorce. For instance, if you’re unemployed while your spouse earns a significant income, you may negotiate for a rational amount of alimony. If you’ve been the main caregiver of your child throughout the marriage, it’s reasonable to seek primary child custody.
In some cases, certain assets such as the house may become divisible property even if only one spouse’s name is in the title. This can happen if the property was acquired during the marriage or using the spouses’ joint bank account. Check with an attorney to ascertain whether the property has been commingled. If so, you may have a claim to it as well.
When asserting your claim to anything in the divorce, prepare your reasoning as well as supporting evidence, in case your spouse disagrees or the court questions the agreement. To best advocate for your interests, get the help of an experienced divorce lawyer.
Creating a divorce settlement agreement in Georgia is not as easy as filling in some blanks. You should ensure that all provisions are fair to you now and in the foreseeable future. For the legal guidance you need, contact Attorney Sharon Jackson. She is one of Gwinnett County’s most trusted divorce attorneys, having protected the rights of numerous spouses over her 20+ years of practice. Call (678) 909-4100 today to schedule your consultation with Attorney Jackson.