Getting Divorced? What You Need to Know About Partial Settlement Agreements

Patricia TichenorLegal

couple drafting a partial settlement agreement

If you’re contemplating a no-fault or uncontested divorce in Virginia, you and your spouse must settle all your issues (division of assets and debt, child custody/support if applicable, etc.) and create a signed settlement agreement documenting these decisions. However, if you haven’t agreed on certain issues just yet, you may be well-served by using a partial settlement agreement to fully resolve certain uncontested or settled matters and eliminate them from becoming part of the costly divorce process if you are not ultimately able to settle all your issues without litigation before a court.

This can also be a step in the right direction if you are struggling to parse out some of the more complicated aspects of your separation. However, before moving forward with a partial settlement agreement, it’s important to consider all the details and what this might entail as you move through the divorce process.

What is a partial settlement agreement?

A partial settlement agreement is a stepping stone to the final goal of divorce: It allows couples to build momentum around their separation and start the transition into life apart.

Drafting a partial settlement agreement means you reach an accord with your soon-to-be ex-spouse on certain issues, but not all aspects of your marriage. In your agreement, you put down in writing any areas where you can agree in order to secure stability for yourself and any minor children you have with your spouse.

This approach can allow you to eventually reach a full agreement on all issues, either in court before a judge, through negotiations between your legal counsel if you are represented, or using with a third-party such as a mediator.

There are some common issues covered in a marital settlement agreement that may be covered in your partial settlement agreement, including:

  • Division of assets, including real property, personal property, bank accounts, investment accounts and retirement benefits
  • Division of debts
  • Spousal support (temporary or permanent)
  • Child support (temporary or permanent)
  • Tax considerations
  • Child custody and visitation schedules (temporary or permanent)
  • Relocation
  • Continuation of medical, dental, vision or other insurance coverage

Rather than bring this entire laundry list of issues into court, a partial settlement agreement allows you cross some of those things off up front, if you can mutually agree on how to handle them. Reducing the number of decisions a judge must rule on can save you a substantial amount of stress, time, and money in the long run during your divorce.

What happens after we sign a partial settlement agreement?

Once a partial settlement agreement is signed and notarized, you may, but are not required, to file it with your local Circuit Court or your local Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court as part of a Consent Order depending on whether you have met the required period of legal separation to initiate a divorce in the Circuit Court and the nature of any fault grounds surrounding the reason for your divorce.

There is no requirement in Virginia to file a divorce unless you (or your spouse) feel ready to do so or believe you need to have your partial settlement agreement recognized as a court order to empower future enforcement of its terms using the court. If there is no filing in the court, you and your spouse must both comply with your partial settlement agreement as a matter contract law and risk future litigation for violation of that contract if either of you should renege on it. 

Whatever issues have not been agreed upon will eventually need to be resolved through continued negotiations directly between spouses, their attorneys, use of a mediator, or litigation before a court.  You may even be directed by the court to use a mediator, and failing a resolution, a judge may rule on these pending issues. This can often be the most difficult and time-consuming part of divorce, so you and your spouse should try your best to reach an agreement outside of court.

Once a full settlement is reached through negotiation or in court, those decisions will be incorporated into your Final Order of Divorce and signed by a Circuit Court judge.

Get DIY legal help with your settlement agreement and divorce.

My Legal Case Coach (MLCC) offers case form packets to help you draft a partial or full settlement agreement, a Consent Order related to that agreement, and, when ready, to file for an uncontested divorce in Virginia. You’ll receive one free hour of 1:1 virtual legal coaching with your packet purchase, so you can fully understand all aspects of your divorce process and better position yourself for a satisfactory outcome.

Schedule a free 15-minute consultation with MLCC to discuss your circumstances with a licensed Virginia attorney and find out if our DIY legal coaching service is right for you.