A marital settlement agreement helps a separated couple compromise and reach agreements on matters such as child custody, child support, alimony, division of property, and more before they file for divorce. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, having this signed document in hand is a prerequisite to filing for an uncontested, no-fault divorce — but what happens if you and your spouse are struggling to agree on certain items?
If you’re unsure about the process, you’re not alone: It can be tricky to draft this document, especially if you and your soon-to-be ex are less than amicable. Here are some common myths about your marital settlement agreement, debunked, and what you should know about drafting yours.
1. You and your spouse must have every issue decided before you can complete your agreement.
While there are a few lucky couples who can agree on everything about their divorce, this isn’t always the case. Fortunately, you may be able to move your divorce forward with a partial settlement agreement. As the name implies, this document allows you to put down in writing any areas where you can agree, with the intention of eventually reaching a full agreement on all issues during the divorce process. Any issues that you can’t agree on right now can be noted as “reserved” and be resolved either through negotiations between your legal counsel (if you or your spouse are represented), or using a third-party such as a mediator, or through litigation by a judge.
2. There’s no legal recourse if your spouse violates the agreement.
Just because a judge did not rule on the issues in your marital settlement agreement doesn’t mean its terms are not just as legally binding and enforceable as a court ruling. When your agreement is incorporated into a court order or final order of divorce, it becomes a legally-binding contract that you and your spouse agree to abide by. If either spouse can prove the other has violated the incorporated terms of the marital settlement agreement, a judge may find the opposing party in contempt of court for violating the court order that incorporated the agreement.
3. You can’t change your agreement once it’s filed.
If you and your spouse both agree that one or more terms of your original settlement agreement need to be modified, you are generally able to do so if: (A) the agreement has not already been incorporated into a court order; or (B) the modification, even if the agreement is already incorporated into a court order, relates to an area of the law where the court retains continuing jurisdiction to modify the agreement, such as custody, visitation and child support. Depending on whether (A) or (B) applies, you can represent yourself or work with an attorney to file a Motion for Modification and have a judge approve or deny the changes being sought.
4. You and your spouse can verbally agree on your divorce terms.
As you and your spouse draft your settlement agreement, you will likely have a lot of verbal discussions about the various issues you’re deciding on. Verbal agreements are not binding and cannot be enforced as part of your agreement. If you and your spouse come to an agreement about something, it must be documented in writing as part of your mutually signed document.
5. It’s easy to draft a marital settlement agreement without legal help.
Even if you and your spouse are planning to represent yourselves in your divorce, you may want to consult a legal expert before you draft and sign your marital settlement agreement. These agreements can be complicated, and signing a legal document without having it reviewed by a professional can lead to costly and time-consuming mistakes when you file for your divorce.
At My Legal Case Coach, we provide legal case form packets to make the process of crafting a partial or full settlement agreement easier, without fear of missing key provisions that might best protect you or your children in the future. You’ll receive a comprehensive sample document as well as a folder of optional clauses to consider so that you can draft a customized document to meet your specific needs. Additionally, you’ll receive one free hour-long virtual legal coaching session to guide you through the drafting process and be in a better position to create a satisfactory outcome.
Schedule your free 15-minute consultation to discuss your circumstances with one of MLCC’s attorneys licensed in Virginia. Contact us today to find out if our DIY legal coaching service is a good fit for your situation.