The divorce settlement is one of the last legal actions in a divorce proceeding and is the final agreement between spouses that sets forth the terms and conditions of a divorce. Divorce settlements cover the division of property and the court’s assignment of ongoing responsibilities concerning issues such as custody, visitation, and support. Divorce settlement agreements must be signed by both parties and accepted by the court before they can be incorporated into the final divorce decree. As part of the final decree, the issues covered in the divorce settlement also become final and do not have to be further contested at trial. Depending on the jurisdiction, divorce settlements are also known as marital agreements, termination agreements and settlement agreements.
Marital issues covered in a divorce settlement may include:
- Spousal Alimony Maintenance
- Real Property
- Child Custody and Visitation
- Child Support Payment
- Division of Debts
- Bank Accounts
- Health and Life Insurance
- Real Estate
- Pension Plans
Two divorcing spouses may decide to ask the court to create a separation agreement before an actual divorce proceeding is finalized. Binding separation agreements are often first made through negotiation or mediation and then included in the final divorce decree as the final settlement agreement in court. If the spouses cannot agree on the issues, the court with jurisdiction will determine asset and debt distribution by state law and will rule on custody, support and visitation based on the best interests of the children involved. Written or verbal agreements between spouses that are made outside of the court-specified terms of the divorce settlement are not legally binding, and failure to comply with the terms set forth in the court-ordered settlement are treated as contempt of court violations.
Couples without extensive marital property, large debts or children do not usually require a separate divorce settlement agreement in addition to the divorce itself. Settlement agreements can provide legal evidence of a separation as well as clear details of the terms of the separation if those issues are contested later. It can be very difficult to petition the court to reverse a court-ordered divorce settlement once it has been signed by a judge and incorporated into a final divorce decree however. If your petition to reverse is denied by the original court, you will need the services of an attorney to make an appeal to a higher court. The exact procedures will vary from state to state, but none are quick, easy and affordable, so it makes sense to craft your settlement agreement correctly the first time. You will save both time and money by agreeing on property, support and custody issues prior to your final divorce settlement agreement.
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