Some marriages naturally conclude when a couple mutually agrees to go their separate ways. Still, some issues need to be hashed out, such as who gets the house and cars, or who pays child support and healthcare. To solve them, try a marital settlement agreement.
- A Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) sets up a couple for an uncontested divorce by figuring out mutual compromises before heading to court.
- Separated and looking, can new relationships begin during an MSA negotiation?
- Contested Matters of a MSA: This is how you get past your differences towards your new start.
Mutual Separation Calls for A Marital Settlement Agreement, or MSA
Marriage requires work, dedication, and a mutual bond. But, what are the options when those ties begin to fray?
Married couples who agree the time has come to end a relationship may choose to live apart.
A legal agreement called a marital settlement agreement, or MSA, can help tie up those lose ends.
Technically, Maryland’s equivalent of legal separation is to obtain a limited divorce. So, an MSA counts as a “ground”, or “reason,” for divorce in the state.
In an MSA, both parties voluntarily agree to separate. At the end of the separation, an absolute divorce can get granted.
Just living apart establishes separation, but often, more people and questions are involved in a divorce than just the couple themselves.
The components of a MSA need to account for:
- Custody, care, and support for any children;
- Who holds healthcare coverage; and
- Division of property, including the marital home upon finalization of divorce.
Crafting a MSA is stressful and complicated, due to those highly contentious decisions. That’s why it helps to have counsel, especially if the other party has obtained an attorney.
After all, there is a lot at stake in an MSA negotiation. If anyone objects and refuses to compromise during an MSA mediation, then the MSA can’t be completed and all parties move to (more expensive) court hearings.
Divorce lawyers experienced in mediation and MSAs can help the parties understand their legal rights and responsibilities. They can also make sure everything needed is done before filing the MSA in court.
Separated and Ready to Move On? Not So Fast, Partner.
So, you have both agreed to split and the MSA mediation is proceeding smoothly. You can hop on a dating website now, right?
You might want to hold on that.
Remember, legal separation is technically non-existent in Maryland. So, even though the couple separates, they are still married in the eyes of the law.
Adultery happens to be a ground for divorce in the state.
So, if you’re caught having what’s legally considered an affair, the other party can use it to their advantage to get a more lopsided divorce decree than they may have been able to otherwise.
- Both parties must live in separate residences.
- The parties can have no sex with each other.
- They must live apart for 12 months.
A new relationship could begin during this time but, cohabitating or sexual relations are a definite no-no if you want to have the best possible MSA.
Imagine two grown adults in a brand-new relationship practicing abstinence. That’s not an easy task, especially a brand spanking new relationship. In new relationships, keeping your hands to yourself is hard to do.
Starting a sex-free relationship would require massive amounts of discipline on both sides, as well as your ex’s trust that you weren’t doing anything even if it looked like it.
If you fail to keep a new relationship sex free, then you risk breaking your current “contract” – your current legal marriage – during the MSA negotiation.
Therefore, the party who did not commit the breach of contract can win a divorce through at-fault causes.
Separation already is stressful, so don’t compound the stress by breaking your legal marriage agreement too soon.
Contesting Matters in the MSA? Mediation Can Help.
Even if both parties agree that the marriage is over and it’s time to move on, each will have their own opinions on various decisions during the MSA negotiation.
Dividing assets, who pays child support, custody and visitation schedules, or who maintains healthcare coverage can be contentious. For a marital settlement agreement to happen, there must be compromise.
Sometimes, a neutral party helps reach that compromise. Mediation services offer a “referee” to help compromise on major decisions, helping to avoid pettiness that ties up negotiations.
Mediation for MSAs can occur in one or more sessions, depending on the contested matters at hand.
At the end, you’ll have a legal document your divorce lawyer can submit to the court to be effectively “rubber stamped.”
In that way, the mediation process streamlines divorce proceedings by avoiding a lengthy and expensive court trial.
That said, an MSA simplifies the court’s involvement, but does not eliminate it entirely. The court will still examine the document to make sure correctness and fairness.
When the time comes for a couple to separate, remember: A lot more than just the relationship ending is at stake. It’s also a time to consider your future life, as well as the relationship’s end.
The experienced family lawyers at The Law Office of James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates, LLC know how to get a fair and reasonable MSA put together.
Contact the Firm today for a free initial consultation to see if an MSA can keep you out of court and keep money in your pocket.