A divorce in Florida can be quite paperwork-intensive, depending on your circumstances. There may be petitions to file, a discovery process to undertake, and terms to agree upon. Much of this administration is necessary to ensure the divorce and all components related to it are lawful. It’s also designed to protect all parties involved from negative consequences. This can be daunting, but an experienced family law attorney can help you navigate it effectively.
One of the common administrative elements of a divorce in Florida is a marital settlement agreement. While it may not be a part of all splits, it tends to be one of the central documents that tend to form part of the final dissolution of marriage. It’s worth taking the time to understand the role it plays and why it’s useful to have one.
So, what is a marital settlement agreement in Florida? Let’s look a little closer at this aspect of the divorce process.
The Short Answer
In short, a marital settlement agreement in Florida is a legally-binding contract that sets out a range of terms related to your divorce. There are, after all, a variety of elements that each party will need to agree upon before the marriage is dissolved. These will certainly depend on the specifics of your relationship, but they typically involve aspects such as the handling of assets, custody, and the handling of matters. This document formalizes the terms that you both — usually in conjunction with your respective attorneys — consider to be fair in order to fully finalize your divorce.
Completing a marital settlement agreement isn’t a condition of divorce in Florida. Rather, the couple has the option to complete one. For short-term marriages where there are no significant property or custody components involved, it may not be entirely necessary. However, many divorcing couples find they benefit from a marital settlement agreement. Primarily, there is a solid record of your agreed terms, meaning that you have some protection if either party acts against the terms. Not to mention that it also draws a line under your union, allowing you both to move on in a fair and positive way.
What Terms Are Usually in a Marital Settlement Agreement?
Marital settlement agreements in Florida are designed to be contracts that cover at least the basic elements required to bring your marriage to a conclusion. The full details may change depending on specific features of your marriage, such as the nuanced needs of your children or prenuptial agreements you had previously arranged. However, most marital settlement agreements cover a few core areas of family law.
It is not unusual for one spouse to have a larger income than the other. Indeed, it may be the case that one party is the primary breadwinner while the other handles the majority of the childcare and homemaking duties. In Florida, part of the aim of divorce settlements is to ensure the split doesn’t see one party experiencing an unfair drop in their quality of life or being at a significant financial disadvantage compared to their former spouse. In these instances, spousal support — otherwise known as alimony — may be part of the marital settlement agreement. This will outline the amount to be paid, the frequency of payments, and the circumstances under which payments should cease.
Division of assets and debts
Florida is what’s known as an “equitable distribution” state. This means that Florida family law only considers the property and debts accumulated during the marriage as applicable to division during a divorce. It is always intelligent to utilize an experienced family law attorney to arrange for a thorough discovery process, as this helps to ensure all relevant elements are accounted for. From here, you and your ex can reach a marital settlement agreement that equally divides the different components of your property and finances. You’ll also agree on who will be responsible for paying which debts and on what timetable they should be handled.
Child support arrangements
If you have children, they will naturally need to be provided for by both parents. Florida law provides guidelines upon which child support amounts are based, depending on the child’s needs, the share of custody, and the income of both parents. This will usually form the basis of the child support terms in a marital settlement agreement. However, if one parent has a particularly high or low income, the terms may need to outline relevant payments in line with these circumstances. The terms may also include additional payments for expenses, such as medical treatments or a college savings fund.
Often, divorces involving children will have a parental plan attached to the marital settlement agreement. This outlines key terms surrounding both parties’ relationships with the children beyond the divorce. Components of this will generally include time sharing, decision-making processes, and communication procedures, among others. It is often simpler to include a mutually-agreed parenting plan in a marital settlement agreement, rather than pursue a lengthy and stressful custody battle in court.
What to Do With a Marital Settlement Agreement
In some instances, you and your former spouse may reach an acceptable marital settlement agreement independently of outside agencies. However, it tends to be wiser for you both to seek the services of experienced family law attorneys. It means you can rest assured that you’re moving forward on fair terms. Not to mention that your lawyers’ experience can help you avoid including terms that might be considered unacceptable to the Florida family courts, which reduces potential delays in filing for divorce and minimizes complications later.
Once the marital settlement agreement has been produced, it is important for both parties to take the time to read it carefully. The last thing either of you want is to put your signature to terms you may regret further down the line. Ensure you understand the definitions of all terms in the contract and what these mean to you moving forward. If you’re uncertain about anything, you need to have your attorney explain it to you. Remember that part of their job is to translate the often complex components of law.
If all terms have been agreed to and signed, the marital settlement agreement will then be filed with the courts alongside your petition for dissolution of marriage. A judge will review the terms of the agreement alongside other documentation relating to your divorce. If they have no concerns or objections, they’ll execute the agreement alongside a final judgment in relation to your divorce.
What Happens if the Marital Settlement Agreement is Breached?
The good news is that your marital settlement agreement is legally binding once it’s been approved by a Florida family court judge. This means that it’s enforceable by law should either party breach the terms.
If this occurs, your first step should be to inform your family law attorney of the circumstances. Even if you don’t seek enforcement right away, there’s at least a formal record of your former spouse’s behavior. If breaches continue, you might instruct your attorney to send an official letter to your ex, reminding them of the terms and requesting their co-operation in maintaining it. In some circumstances, though, you and your lawyer might agree to pursue the matter with the courts, which can come with significant consequences for the breaching party.
Call The Family Law Attorneys Men Trust (813) 415-3510
In Law We Trust Divorce and Family Lawyers is a premier firm of divorce lawyers representing men in family law proceedings. We have years of experience representing men who are navigating complex aspects of the dissolution of their marriage, including the nuanced contract terms that can dictate how fair the outcome is. Our team’s experience and skills help to guide our clients through the challenges of the Florida family law courts. Call us today and get the proper representation men need and deserve.
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