It is not necessary to appear in court if you and your spouse reach an agreement. You can avoid court divorce once an agreement is reached. If you and your spouse reach an agreement, a Marital Settlement Agreement (often abbreviated “MSA”) can be submitted and approved by the court without a personal appearance.
Exactly how can an Marital Settlement Agreement help you avoid court divorce? Marital Settlement Agreements are comprehensive documents that set forth the parties’ agreements pertaining to the dissolution of their marriage, or their legal separation. They can include the following:
Division of Community Property
In California, which is a community property state, assets acquired or purchased during the marriage are considered community property and need to be divided equitably between the parties. This can be accomplished by an in-kind division, where all assets are split evenly, or by selling the assets, with the proceeds being evenly divided. As an alternative, assets can be allocated between the spouses in a manner that results in each receiving assets of comparable value.
Separate assets, such as assets acquired by gift or inheritance, are not treated as community property subject to division and are awarded to the spouse who acquired the asset by gift or inheritance.
Allocation of Debts and Liabilities:
Similar to the division of community assets, any debts or obligations incurred during marriage are the equal responsibility of the parties and need to be divided in a manner that results in each party assuming one half the debt. In cases where the marital debts exceed the value of the marital assets, it is possible to allocate a larger portion of the debt to the higher income spouse.
Child, Spousal and Family Support:
Marital Settlement Agreements should also include provisions regarding the amount of child support to be paid (if there are children of the marriage), as well as provisions for the amount and duration of tax deductible spousal support. When applicable, the agreement may provide for family support, a support option that combines both child and spousal support and is entirely tax deductible by the payor.
Child Custody and Visitation:
When there are children of the marriage, Marital Settlement Agreements should also set forth provisions regarding physical and legal custody of the children, as well as a more detailed parenting plan which delineates how the parties are going to share holidays and school vacations, share information regarding their children, and make decisions moving forward on items materially affecting the health, education and overall welfare of the children.
Although there are many sample Marital Settlement Agreements available, these Agreements can be very complex and it is always advisable to have an experienced family law attorney draft and/or review Marital Settlement Agreements.