Maryland Divorce Settlement Agreements
Take control of the family legal process with less expensive, out-of-court settlement agreements. You decide what you want – not a judge.
What Is a Separation Agreement?
In Maryland, a marital separation agreement – also known as an “MSA” or “Marital Settlement Agreement” – is a legally binding contract between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse.An MSA outlines:
- Alimony obligations (“spousal support”): Who pays what, to whom, and for how long
- Property distributions: How assets, money, and other marital property is divided. (For this reason, MSAs can also be called “Property Settlement Agreements.”)
- Debt divisions: Who is responsible for credit card, student loan, mortgages, and other forms of debt.
- If there are children: Custody, visitation, and support obligations
- How businesses can be divided between the couple, regardless of the immediate involvement of any party
- How insurance plans and beneficiaries should be allocated
- How future post-divorce modifications would be made, if any
Negotiations over these and other aspects of the pending separation occur outside of court at neutral meeting locations.
Marital separation agreements can be hashed out without mediators or divorce lawyers involved. However, without adequate representation, either party runs the risk of not obtaining what they actually want out of the divorce decree. And, if it’s not “fair,” a court may reject it as invalid to include as part of the divorce decree.
How Are Separation Agreements Part Of A Divorce?
Once you and your former spouse agree to and sign off on all terms detailed in a marriage separation agreement, it goes to a divorce court judge for review. The judge will then evaluate the MSA and see if it should be ratified under Maryland law. Basically, the judge is looking to see if the MSA contract is “fair” – which has several different legal definitions.
Most MSAs negotiated by family lawyers on behalf of each party already meet the legal criteria of “fairness.” The judge essentially rubber-stamps the agreement and makes it an unchangeable part of the legal divorce decree, which officially ends the marriage.
People who try to submit an MSA without legal advice are more at risk of failing the fairness test – and letting the judge decree the terms of their divorce for them.
What Are the Benefits Of Getting A Separation Agreement?
First of all, Maryland’s marital separation agreement process helps divorcing couples avoid spending lots of time in court – and lots of money on litigation.
If the couple can’t find an agreement outside of court, then they are forced into court. There, each party argues to a judge why their requests for the divorce are more valid. Then, the judge creates the final divorce decree based on their – not your – best judgment of the facts.
After over 25 years of helping thousands upon thousands of divorce and MSA clients, we believe about 80% of couples can reach a resolution without resorting to the courtroom.
At the very least, offering to settle the marriage out of court is a good way to set the tone for the proceedings. The worst they can do is say no – and you’ve got JC Law to defend you if that happens.
How Are Separation Agreements Enforced?
If the final marital separation agreement was included in the judge’s divorce decree, your ex might be in contempt of court if they have not kept to the stated terms and obligations.
Being convicted of contempt of court can result in jail time and other penalties, including punitive fees.
However, if your marital separation agreement was not included in the legal Maryland divorce decree, then you must enforce its terms outside of divorce court. In these cases, you can file a breach of contract claim against your ex.
That said, sometimes there is a legitimate reason why you or your ex have broken the terms of the MSA. Circumstances change, or there may be legal wiggle room that you didn’t see when it was first drafted.
In these cases, a family law attorney experienced with separation agreements will help you evaluate your legal claims under Maryland’s family and contract laws.
How Can I Change Or Revoke A Separation Agreement?
There should be a “material change in circumstances” to request a change in the agreement, especially if it was part of the divorce decree. These changes can include:
- Change in legal or financial status that causes one party to be unable to make payments or otherwise afford the MSA’s terms
- Planned moves that leave the party unable to fulfill the terms of the MSA
- Involved children’s preferences have changed regarding visitation or custody
- Evidence of abuse against involved minors that would place them in danger if the MSA continues to be enforced
Family law attorneys can evaluate your case, negotiate with your ex, and draft a clear and enforceable contract on your behalf.
Should I Get A Separation Agreement?
If you intend to get a no-fault divorce– and you and your former spouse each want to avoid court – then pursuing a marital separation agreement is a good idea. With good legal guidance, most couples can complete a valid MSA.
However, it may be wise to avoid pursuing a marital separation agreement if:
- You or the other party intends to file for an “at fault” divorce, which must be adjudicated in Maryland court;
- The other party has openly requested outlandish demands without hope of compromise, or outright stated that they will not cooperate with the divorce proceedings;
- The other party has been passive-aggressive, uncooperative, and/or quietly preventing the divorce from proceeding. (In this instance, they may claim they’re willing to cooperate, then drag their feet submitting requested documentation, or refuse to schedule or attend various mediation sessions.)
You should consult with an excellent family law attorney and briefly outline your situation to see if a marital separation agreement will work in your case.
“I needed help[, and] Mr. [Florian] Tabaku helped me through each step, clearly explaining everything. He didn’t make me feel like I was bothering him[,] and had patience throughout the entire process. I would definitely use his services if needed in the future.”