Marital Settlement Agreement vs. Divorce Decree Explained

Marital Settlement Agreement vs. Divorce Decree—What Is the Difference?

Getting a divorce isn’t an easy or stress-free process. Even when you and your soon-to-be ex-partner don’t have personal issues, getting over all the legal hurdles of divorce takes a lot of time and energy.

Among many legal documents you will need to review, the two most important ones are a marital settlement agreement and a divorce decree. Since both are used for the purpose of getting a divorce, you may think of them as the same documents.

This article gives you a breakdown of a marital settlement agreement vs. a divorce decree. You will learn:

  1. What these divorce documents are
  2. How to interpret the sections in the agreements
  3. Whether you can write the contracts on your own

What Is a Marital Settlement Agreement, and Is It the Same as a Separation Agreement? 

A marital settlement agreement is a legally binding document between two spouses that are getting a legal divorce. It contains all the terms the spouses have agreed on regarding:

  • Division of shared property
  • Child custody and visitation rights
  • Child support
  • Alimony
  • Shared debts and assets
  • Insurance

Also called a property settlement agreement, a marital settlement agreement isn’t the same as a separation agreement.

Partners can begin negotiating a separation agreement when they decide to get a divorce, and it doesn’t have to be filed with the court right away. If you are contemplating divorcing your spouse, you should discuss under what terms you will divorce and draw up a separation agreement.

When you and your spouse agree on all the important matters of the divorce and know which party will obtain what rights and take on what responsibilities, you can enter into a marital settlement agreement. Unlike a separation agreement, a marital settlement agreement needs to be filed with the court.

Can You Write a Marital Settlement Agreement on Your Own?

You can write a settlement agreement on your own or hire an attorney to do it for you.

If you opt for the latter, it’s best to have your own attorney than to employ the family one. Both divorcing spouses should have their own legal assistant when drafting, reviewing, and signing a marital settlement agreement.

If you and your spouse have already written a separation agreement, you can attach it to the marital settlement agreement.

What Is a Divorce Decree?

If you want to be legally separated from your spouse, you cannot do it without the court issuing a divorce decree. While a marital settlement agreement only lists the terms of a potential divorce, a divorce decree is the finalization of a divorce. It is a legally binding court order that applies to both parties.

You can incorporate your marital settlement agreement into a divorce decree.

The reason why most spouses use a marital settlement agreement is that it’s easier and more favorable to both parties to agree on important matters in private than to have a divorce judge settle those matters for them.

Looking at the Marital Settlement Agreement Clauses

Check out what clauses you need in your settlement agreement and what information they include in the table below:

Marital Settlement Agreement SectionsWhat Information They Contain
  • Insurance
  • Joint accounts
  • Credit card debts
  • Personal loans
Child-related clauses
  • Emancipation details
  • Custody
  • Visitation and holidays
  • Savings and life insurance
  • Mortgage
  • Personal property
  • Taxes

Other matters you may need to agree on with your spouse are related to:

  • Pets you share
  • Last name one party wants to change

Note that a marital settlement agreement should also include an indemnification clause that protects the rights of both parties in case of agreement breach or violation.

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