Marital Settlement Agreements vs Stipulated Judgments
The terms by which spouses in California divorce and go their separate ways are critical to their futures.
Ideally, divorcing couples agree on these terms without the need for court intervention and expensive litigation. This will usually result in a written marital settlement agreement.
If a couple is initially in dispute, negotiation or mediation may be required and a stipulated judgment may be possible. Much depends on the complexity of the outstanding issues and the nature of the relationship that exists between the partners.
While a marital settlement agreement is favorable because it avoids many associated legal costs, it does require considerable thought and preparation — and legal assistance remains advisable.
Guidance and support from a seasoned divorce attorney will ensure the following:
- The terms of the agreement are favorable for your future interests (especially important as marital service agreements cannot usually be modified without a material change of circumstances or proof of fraud)
- Fair spousal support and child support (if applicable) are paid
- You can exit the relationship in the best possible financial position
What is a marital settlement agreement in California?
Marital Settlement Agreements set out the terms by which the relationship between divorcing spouses ends. As such, they typically involve discussions and negotiations between the partners and/or attendance at a settlement conference.
The outcome is usually documented in a templated form that is attached and incorporated into the Judgment of Dissolution form. Sometimes, the terms of the agreement are read out in court with a court reporter present, so that it becomes part of the court record.
The type of information included in a valid Marital Settlement Agreement usually covers the following topics:
For a divorce to be finalized using a marital settlement agreement rather than a stipulated judgment, the agreement must be drafted, signed, and stamped by the Court.
The terms of the agreement are enforceable under Californian law, meaning that partners are subject to civil or criminal penalties if the agreement is breached.
What is a stipulated judgment in California?
A stipulated judgment contains much of the same information about the same issues as a marital settlement agreement — but is usually less detailed.
In more contentious divorces, divorcing spouses who want to avoid the costs of litigation and going to trial may need professional assistance to settle any custody, support, or asset division issues. They may need to attend negotiation or mediation sessions and this is where a stipulated judgment becomes more likely.
Like with a marital settlement agreement, once the stipulated judgment is attached and incorporated into a Judgment of Dissolution or Judgment of Paternity, both the Family Court and law enforcement can enforce the terms.
Do you provide a template marital settlement agreement?
Marital settlement agreements are considered so essential that a template form is provided by the California Court system.
This form can help you identify the information that must be included and what needs to be discussed with your spouse.
However, most couples will find the language a little complex and this can confuse important details and provisions. You must set the right terms of divorce for the sake of your future. Therefore, legal assistance is generally recommended at this stage — whether you will file a marital settlement agreement or stipulated judgment.
Most law firms draft their own marital settlement agreements that are far more comprehensive than the template one.
Even if you agree on everything as a couple, it is highly advisable to have your attorney(s) review the document before it is signed and submitted to the court.
What terms are included in a stipulated judgment or marital settlement agreement?
The circumstances of every marriage are different. Consequently, marital settlement agreements and stipulated judgments do vary.
Some agreements/judgments are very basic because of the lack of children in the marriage and/or lack of assets.
Generally, longer marriages with children and considerable assets to divide will require more elaborate agreements.
Typically, these are the issues covered:
- Child custody provisions
- A detailed parenting plan, including visitation and the obligations of each parent
- Amount and frequency of child support payments
- Amount and duration of spousal support (if applicable)
- Marital property division (California applies the community property law, where marital property belongs to each spouse equally)
A comprehensive agreement should go into some detail on these important matters. For instance, as part of the property division agreement, the couple’s pensions and tax implications must be considered; or, as part of the child support agreement, details such as funding college education should be included for clarity.
Why if my ex violates the terms of our marital settlement agreement?
Both marital settlement agreements and stipulated judgments are enforceable by the Family Law courts and law enforcement in California. This means that transgressors could be liable for civil or criminal penalties. In the most serious cases, it could lead to a jail sentence.
If your ex violates the terms, you have several courses of action available to you:
- File a contempt of court action against the transgressor, which could lead to fines, community service, and/or jail time.
- File a motion with the court seeking other sanctions against the transgressor.
- File a motion seeking that the court compel the other party to cooperate with the order (e.g., through wage garnishment or the use of other assets).
- File a writ of execution, seeking that the court levies accounts or assets owed.
- File a motion asking the court to appoint an official elisor to sign documents on behalf of the other party (if they are refusing to sign).
For divorce issues in California, the family attorneys at The Sands Law Group APLC can help. Contact us or call at 213-788-4412 today for a free 15-minute phone consultation about your case.