In a divorce case that is resolved by agreement, a Marital Settlement Agreement will set forth the specifics of that agreement.
The main purpose of the martial settlement agreement is to ensure that everyone really is in agreement as to the terms under which an uncontested divorce case is settled, and to put those terms into a clear writing that neither party can dispute later on. The first part, ensuring there really is settlement, is important because divorce cases involve issues that many people do not even think about until it is time to resolve the case. As an example, I have had clients who didn’t fully consider the tax implications of their divorce until we discussed the matter in preparation for settlement discussions. The second part, having everything in writing, is vital because people will sometimes try to violate terms of the agreement, and having an enforceable written agreement is necessary to handle such problems properly.
The exact name used for the martial settlement agreement will vary by state (and sometimes even by county, due to local rules and customs). In general, Illinois calls the document a Marital Settlement Agreement, while Iowa calls it a Stipulation and Settlement Agreement or a Stipulated Settlement Agreement. Regardless of the exact name, the important part is that the martial settlement agreement contains the proper terms and language so as to create an enforceable agreement that the court will accept and adopt when issuing the divorce decree.
One of the biggest pitfalls that a person can find themselves in during and after a divorce case relates to not properly handing the agreement that is reached and incorporated into the marital settlement agreement. That is because reaching an agreement that “gives away the farm” can cause a person lasting financial harm and child custody problems. A related problem occurs when the martial settlement agreement is vague or ambiguous, as it can then be difficult or impossible to enforce the agreement that was reached. For those reasons, it is vital to work with one’s attorney to ensure a proper and enforceable marital settlement agreement is reached in an uncontested divorce case.