Representing yourself in an uncontested divorce comes with complex responsibilities, one of which is creating a marital settlement agreement. This legal document outlines the terms of a divorce between spouses and must be filed with the court with your other legal documents, referred to most commonly as “divorce pleadings.”
Here are five steps to take when drafting a marital settlement agreement for an uncontested divorce in Virginia.
Step 1: Fill out basic information and details
The first step in drafting your marital settlement agreement is documenting accurate and concise information regarding your marriage and separation. Your agreement must include both parties’ full legal names, the separation date, and information regarding any children born or adopted during the marriage.
The date of separation is particularly important to document here, so you and your spouse must be in agreement on when at least one of you formed the intent to permanently separate and believed that there was no hope or possibility of a reconciliation. This is used as the “date of separation” for your agreement. In Virginia, if you have no minor children and have a signed marital settlement agreement, you can file divorce pleadings to complete your divorce once you have been separated for a period of six months and one day from your date of separation. If you have minor children, you can only file if it has been one year and one day from your date of separation.
Step 2: Outline agreement sections
The standard marital agreement settlement has detailed subject headings to assist in the creation of an outlined agreement. You are not limited to using the standard subject headings. You are also able to create your own to ensure the agreement covers what you and your spouse find important and necessary.
In the agreement, you will also want to include a provision that explains who is responsible for covering fees and court costs if there is a divorce and a separate provision about enforcing the agreement itself if you have an issue where one party is not complying with the terms of the agreement. It’s always better to include details than to keep information vague and left up to interpretation. A marital settlement agreement is meant to be a finalized agreement. To modify or amend the agreement at a later date, both parties must agree to do so, usually before a notary public to ensure there is no later accusation of fraudulent signing.
Step 3: Divide assets and claims
A marital settlement agreement separates and identifies property. There are two types of property: real and personal. Take time to create a list of available properties of both types. Before deciding how to split property, consider which party values it more or spent more time acquiring it originally.
Real Property: This property is easy to identify and is usually the most valuable. Examples include:
- Real estate.
- Vegetation such as trees and plants.
Personal Property: This refers to intangible forms of property and a general ownership requirement. When in doubt, it is usually a personal property, like:
- Bank accounts.
- Insurance policies.
- Retirement Accounts.
- Employer incentive plans (like stock options that vest later in the future).
- Children’s college education funds.
When dividing assets and claims, it’s easy to overlook debts. However, it’s crucial to carefully outline the debts you acquired during or brought into the marriage. Common forms of debt are student loans, credit card balances, mortgages, home equity lines of credit, and car loans.
If you and your spouse have minor children together, you’ll need to work together to agree upon child support, child visitation, and custody arrangements that best suit your children. You do not want to leave this issue up to chance or a judge’s discretion if at all possible. Take a step back, and consider your children’s emotional and financial wellbeing throughout the entire process.
Step 4: Negotiate any uncertain terms and explore a partial settlement agreement if necessary.
No matter how amicable your separation may have seemed, drafting a marital settlement agreement can stir up complicated emotions and cause one or both spouses to disagree on certain issues. If either of you is hesitant to put pen to paper about where you stand on things like child custody, child support, spousal support, or asset division, you may be able to draft a partial settlement agreement.
Like a regular marital settlement agreement, a partial agreement includes all the terms to which you and your spouse both agree, while stating in the agreement those items which you each “reserve for later negotiation or a final determination of a judge.” This can help you move your divorce forward while you and your spouse continue to negotiate on these issues.
Step 5: Have an experienced legal coach review your agreement before you sign it.
When you’re drafting your own marital settlement agreement, it can help to have an objective, professional opinion from an experienced legal coach before you sign, notarize, and file it with the Court. With My Legal Case Coach, you won’t have to start from scratch: We offer a convenient, easy-to-use template for your agreement, along with the necessary legal case forms you’ll need to file for an uncontested divorce.
With each case form packet purchase, you’ll also receive one (1) free hour of 1:1 virtual legal coaching on your schedule. Should you need additional guidance as you draft your settlement agreement, you can purchase ongoing prepaid blocks of coaching time for as little as $100 per hour.
If you’re facing a DIY divorce case, don’t go through it alone. My Legal Case Coach is here to help you navigate this complex and emotional time in your life. Schedule a complimentary consultation today to discuss your case and how we may be able to help you.