Execute a Marital Separation Agreement as Soon as You Separate
As soon as you and your spouse execute a Marital Separation Agreement (sometimes called a Marital Settlement Agreement or a Property Settlement Agreement), your divorce will become uncontested. You can then represent yourself in the divorce hearing, if a divorce hearing is required. If you can agree with your spouse on the major issues, and execute a Marital Separation Agreement you will save you thousands of dollars in legal fees. You don’t need counsel in order to create and enter into a Marital Separation Agreement. When parties to a divorce are represented by counsel the cost of legal fees for both parties increases very rapidly.
If You Need Legal Advice
If you think you need legal advice, you can now consult with a lawyer for as little as $39.00 for a legal advice phone call where you can discuss your situation. This service is available from online companies like Avvo or JustAnswer.
When You Should Be Represented by Counsel
There are certain kinds of divorces where both parties should be represented by counsel. For example, a high conflict divorce where the parties can’t agree on custody or the spousal support amount or there is a disagreement about what is marital property and what is not marital property, or a situation where one party is abusing the other and domestic violence is present. These situations require that the parties be represented by counsel.
You and your spouse should be able to come to an agreement on the critical issues. Then you can incorporate your agreements into a written document. Once you have an executed Marital Separation Agreement, your divorce is more of an administrative process than a court proceeding in the sense you simply have to submit the correct documents the court and your divorce will be approved.
What is a Legal Separation?
A Marital Separation Agreement is not the same as a “Legal Separation.”
Legal separation is not a divorce, and it is obtained through a court action, (a judicial proceeding). Unlike a divorce, obtaining a legal separation requires no waiting period. The parties can fix their rights and obligations to each other immediately via the courts rather than waiting several months. A couple may want to avoid divorce and seek a legal separation because of religious reasons, tax and insurance considerations or to continue to receive state or federal benefits. When you get a “legal separation” it results from a court order, and it has all of the characteristics of a divorce, except that you cannot remarry.
Execute a Marital Separation Agreement when you separate, but don’t file it with the court. You bring it to the final divorce hearing and it becomes part of the record. You want an MSA during the period when you a separated in order to limit your liability and define the rights of each of you in your joint property and to limit your liabilities to each other during the period of separation.
A typical Marital Separation Agreement will cover these topics:
The agreement can cover:
- a spouse’s right to alimony and support;
- who resides in the home;
- the ownership and use of vehicles and other property;
- the ownership of personal property;
- a division of household goods and furnishings;
- a division of cash, bank accounts, IRA’s, etc.;
- insurance coverage;
- the custody and visitation of the children;
- the support of the children (including clothing, activities, school fees, etc.);
- payment of medical expenses;
- credit card payments;
- mortgage, utility and household bills payments; and
- whether joint or separate tax returns will be filed.
A Marital Separation Agreement must be in writing, executed by both parties, with signatures being witnessed and notarized.