When couples are involved in an uncontested divorce, they can save a lot of time and money by drafting up a separation agreement. Then, they can review this agreement with a mediator or legal document assistant to ensure protection and validity. Luckily, this process may not require a lawyer’s advice! That said, divorcing couples should research the key points to include in their separation agreement prior to meeting with a professional. Settling all issues one-on-one will make filing the documents and finalizing the divorce simple and easy.
What is a Separation Agreement?
A separation agreement, also known as a marital settlement agreement, is a written document that addresses all issues of a divorce. The agreement should outline the agreed-upon terms of the separation in regards to these issues. However, note that a judge will review your separation agreement for approval before it becomes a ruling.
How to Start a Marital Settlement Agreement
Typically, couples benefit from starting the first draft of their separation agreement upon filing their initial petition for divorce. This draft is a great tool to start important conversations about settling issues. In fact, the California court system even provides a sample marital settlement agreement template to help you get started! This document includes most of the key points you’ll want to address in your formalized agreement document. Below is a list of some of the most important issues to discuss when writing your separation agreement.
Custody and Visitation
If you and your spouse have minor children together, there are a couple items to include in your agreement pertaining to them. First, determine custody and visitation. Specifically, who will have legal custody of the child? Who will have physical custody? Will custody be joint, or will one parent have sole custody? Even in an amicable co-parenting situation, custody orders are vital in ensuring one parent cannot take the child and move as they please. In fact, the police can only enforce clear and defined child custody orders. Therefore, to protect yourself and your child, you should include custody orders in your agreement.
Further, custody will determine visitation requirements. More specifically, the separation agreement should identify which parent has visitation rights and when. For example, parents may decide on specified visitation, or open visitation. With open visitation, both parents are flexible in the time they spend with the child. Typically, a judge will approve the custody and visitation plans outlined in the separation agreement as long as both parents agree on them.
In addition to visitation and custody, separating parents must decide if one individual will be paying child support. When creating a marital settlement agreement, the parties may choose to agree on a monetary amount of child support or defer the issue to the Department of Child Support Services. However, parties may also choose to reserve child support, and not require it from either parent.
That said, divorcing couples should include in their separation agreement the relevant information that the judge would use in calculating child support based on California’s guidelines. This information includes each party’s income and parenting timeshare. Further, child support requirements should be detailed and specific. For example, the agreement should list the support due date of each month. Finally, remember to include a timeframe for the support. Many people choose to end child support when the child turns 18 or if the child is emancipated.
Next, regardless of whether the parties have children together, one spouse may request spousal support at the dissolution of a marriage. Like child support, spousal support should include a termination clause. Many people choose to terminate spousal support once the receiving spouse becomes self-sufficient. However, other people choose to continue spousal support payments until one of the individuals dies.
Furthermore, one of the most important provisions of your spousal support agreement is whether you want the court to maintain jurisdiction over the support orders. This is incredibly important in the case that either spouse wants to modify the orders in the future. If spouses decide to terminate the court’s jurisdiction over the support orders, a judge cannot order a modification of support, even after a significant change in circumstances.
Division of Property
Finally, within a separation agreement, each party should list all of their separate and community property. This inventory process will help the couple decide on a fair division of property. That said, individuals in an uncontested divorce can determine their own plans for sharing property. Note that both parties must agree to the decision for the court to recognize it.
Be sure to include real property provisions in your agreement. Who will hold the title to (and live in) the family home? Who is responsible for maintenance and home improvement? Further, how will the parties divide and distribute retirement funds? Dividing assets is not easy, and may require additional help. Luckily, there are options.
Get Help From A People’s Choice With Writing a Separation Agreement
Especially when it comes to the division of real and personal property such as pensions and retirement benefits, writing your own separation agreement can be difficult. However, many people find it helpful to work with a registered legal document assistant! While we are not attorneys and cannot give legal advice, A People’s Choice’s professional document assistants can help you accurately outline how you will handle issues in your divorce.
A People’s Choice offers low-cost, flat-fee pricing for a plethora of family law services. Plus, we’re here to help you complete and file your agreement to reach a final judgment – without paying high attorneys’ fees. Contact us or utilize our Quick Start My Divorce Interview to start the process today!
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