Marital Settlement Agreement vs. Divorce Decree: An Overview

  1. Separation & Divorce
  2. Marital Settlement Agreement vs. Divorce Decree: An Overview
Mediator speaking with two individuals, a gavel, two wedding rings and clipboard between them | New Direction Family Law

According to the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 690,000 couples get divorced each year.  

If you and your spouse are thinking about getting divorced, it’s important to understand the processes and paperwork involved. This can be a complicated journey, often made even more difficult by the emotions involved.

It gets even more complex when you consider the different aspects of legal separation, such as a marital settlement agreement and divorce decree. 

What are the key differences between these two divorce documents? Today, we’re breaking it all down and sharing the answers you need to know. 

What Is a Marital Settlement Agreement?

A marital settlement agreement explains that you’ve agreed to end your marriage. It usually contains a range of different logistical details, such as:

  • How you will divide your shared property
  • How you will share custody of your children 
  • How you will manage a family business
  • Who will keep the family pets

These are all very important considerations and determine what will happen with these important aspects of a one household that will become two.Issues like child custody and shared property can get murky if there aren’t legal guidelines in place. This comprehensive plan lays everything out so there isn’t any confusion when the time comes to implement those changes. 

Once the settlement agreement is signed and notarized by both parties,  it  will serve as a roadmap to help you fairly divide your shared property, finances, and custodial schedules during the separation period and after the divorce.  

Who Creates It?

It’s highly recommended that you hire a lawyer to prepare your marital settlement agreement. Or, if your spouse’s attorney has already prepared it, you should hire an attorney to review it (on your behalf) and make sure important legal provisions are added, deleted, or corrected in order to protect your rights.

There are phrases such as “exclusive possession,” “sole legal custody,” and “timely indemnify and hold harmless,” which actually have very important meanings. You don’t have the expertise of a lawyer, so you may miss serious problems with the proposed agreement, or may not know what specific words should be included to protect your interests. If you fail to catch the meaning of a certain clause, you may end up losing important rights. The smart thing to do is to hire a qualified family law attorney in the beginning to make sure you don’t lose in the end.

What Is a Divorce Decree?

You can think of the marital settlement agreement as the preliminary process required when getting divorced. 

On the other hand, a divorce decree legally mandates that you are divorced in the eyes of the law. There are several steps you cannot legally take until you have this document in hand, such as:

  • Getting your former name back
  • Legally identifying as divorced
  • Transferring assets
  • Marrying again 

In most cases, the court will issue a divorce decree after you’ve completed and finalized your marital settlement agreement.

If you and your spouse cannot agree on the terms of the agreement, you will enter into a contested divorce. Let’s take a look at this process. 

Contested Divorce

Filing for a contested divorce means that you and/or your spouse want a divorce, but you cannot agree on how to settle everything. 

To reach an agreement, you’ll both hire attorneys to work out the details for both parties. If a settlement cannot be reached, then you’ll have to go to family court. The presiding judge will listen to everyone, and they will ultimately decide how the marital settlement agreement will work. 

Once they’ve made that decision, they will issue the divorce decree.

Uncontested Divorce

In an uncontested divorce, the process is much smoother. First, you and your spouse will each meet with your own attorney and finalize your marital settlement agreement. 

Next, your attorney will file a complaint for absolute divorce. Your complaint will include simple information about yourself, your spouse, and your children, including that you have completed a marital settlement agreement. Then, a judge will review the information that the complaint contains. If they deem that everything looks correct, they will issue your final divorce decree. 

It’s important to note that even if the divorce is uncontested, it’s imperative to hire a divorce attorney to ensure that all legal requirements are met and your rights are protected throughout the process. While an uncontested divorce means both spouses agree on the terms of the divorce, an attorney can still play a crucial role in drafting the necessary legal documents, navigating complex legal procedures, and providing valuable legal advice. This ensures that the final divorce decree accurately reflects your intentions and safeguards your interests, preventing potential complications or disputes in the future. 

New Direction Family Law Provides Unmatched Divorce Counsel

At New Direction Family Law, we specialize in helping families work through divorce and all of the challenges involved. Our attorneys will work closely with you, listening to all your concerns, providing support and helping you reach a positive outcome. To learn more or discuss the details of your case, contact us today to schedule a consultation! 

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