In a divorce, it’s normally best to work out a complete agreement out of court if possible. There are many benefits of doing so. A divorce mediator can help you with this, if both spouses are willing.
The main areas that need to be covered in a divorce agreement involving children are co-parenting plans, child support, spousal support and the division of assets and debts. When there are no minor children, the agreement must cover spousal support and the division of assets and debts.
Once the agreements for the divorce have all been reached, they need to be written up so a judge can approve them. When the judge signs off on them, the agreements become orders of the court.
The court’s website simply tells you to attach your divorce agreement document to the FL-180 form, which is the form for the court’s judgment. There are other court forms required in order to get a divorce.
Names of Divorce Agreements
Different names have arisen for written divorce agreements. Mediators who are not attorneys generally call them a “Memorandum of Understanding.” My MOUs are typically 8-10 pages long.
When attorneys write up a divorce agreement, they normally call the document either a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) or a Stipulated Judgment. What’s the difference?
The terms don’t seem to have precise definitions. But a Stipulated Judgment focuses more narrowly on the agreements reached that will become orders of the court. They are often 20 or so pages long.
A Marital Settlement Agreement is longer. It typically includes more background, contextual and/or boilerplate information and can run to 30 pages or more.
Many couples work out and document the terms of their divorce without using divorce professionals. They may call their divorce agreement document whatever they want.
Regardless of what the document is called, the spouses should read it very carefully before signing. And they must sign the document. Notarized signatures may be required.
Format of Divorce Agreements
There is no required format for written divorce agreements. Therefore, the formats used vary widely depending on who drafts the document. At a minimum, there should be a clear section in the document for each main subject matter area.
When a mediator or an attorney drafts the agreement, there will normally be numbered paragraphs in each section. These facilitate reviewing, discussing and modifying the document as it evolves towards completion. They have templates that facilitate drafting the document.
When drafting a divorce settlement document make sure it:
- is comprehensive, i.e. addresses all areas required by the court;
- is very clearly written so there can be no possible misunderstanding of the specific agreements reached;
- doesn’t run afoul of the law.
Sometimes one or both spouses will have a family law attorney read the final draft of the document before they sign it. The attorney can make comments about the completeness, clearness, implications and fairness of the document. The same would apply to a review by another divorce professional, such as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst or a divorce mediator.