Expediting Divorce Through a Marital Settlement Agreement

Caring and Knowledgeable Family Law Attorney Serving Clients in Cedar Rapids

Going through a divorce is never an easy process. Psychiatrists and social scientists have repeatedly documented divorce as one of the most significant traumas that an individual can experience. The emotional, social, and physical changes that come with divorce can require extensive time and effort to overcome.

While divorce is inherently difficult, separating spouses can make divorce more or less challenging depending on their ability – or willingness – to work together towards a cooperative outcome. While some situations, such as a divorce resulting from abuse, do not lend themselves to cooperation, in many circumstances spouses can benefit from working together to finalize the dissolution of their marriage and move on with their lives.

The Divorce Process

Divorce is essentially the process of dividing one marital life into two individual lives. This involves:

  • The division of financial assets like bank accounts and 401Ks
  • The division of personal property like homes and cars
  • Figuring out how each spouse will be financially supported after divorce
  • Arranging for custody of any children after divorce
  • Working out any child support that may be required

While a divorce ultimately must be reviewed and approved by a judge, divorce does not require that a judge divide your assets or determine your child custody for you.  The involvement of a judge in these personal decisions is only required when spouses cannot reach a mutually agreeable arrangement on their own.

In reality, when spouses can work together in a cooperative fashion, they can control the division of their assets, financial resources, and child care on their own. They can decide, not a judge. And as long as such arrangements are fair and equitable, a court is likely to agree to them. In Iowa, this can be done through the creation of a marital settlement agreement (it is also called a Stipulation).

What Is A Marital Settlement Agreement?

A marital settlement agreement, also known as a stipulation in Iowa, is a written agreement negotiated between two divorcing spouses that sets forth the details of how their lives should be divided.

In order to have a truly simplified divorce process, a marital settlement agreement should encompass all of the aspects of a divorce that must be approved by a court – including the division of property, any alimony, child custody, and child support. The settlement agreement will serve as the governing document for any future divorce disputes, so parties must pay very close attention to the terms set forth in the document.

Drafting a settlement agreement can be a far less contentious process than having a judge determine the terms of your divorce, but this does not mean that it is an easy process that requires minimal time or attention. Because the parties are freely agreeing to terms that will dictate their future, it is imperative that adequate time and attention be given to the document.

For example, a settlement agreement should address any and all property that will need to be divided in a divorce, including property the parties currently have, and property they may be entitled to in the future. If your spouse has a pension that you contributed to during the course of the marriage, or a life insurance policy that you made payments towards as a married couple, these types of future property must  be addressed.

Likewise, there may be future needs for your children that you can anticipate and want to address in a marital settlement agreement. Perhaps your children have significant upcoming medical expenses, or you fully plan on them attending college and needing assistance with tuition. To avoid headaches down the road, these expenses should be addressed in your agreement.

Using a Settlement Agreement To Expedite the Process

In all divorce cases, the parties who wish to divorce must begin the process by filing a petition for dissolution of the marriage. Either spouse can file this petition. After the petition is filed, the spouses must wait ninety days before finalizing the divorce. This waiting period is in case the parties change their mind about moving forward with the divorce. It is also a period of time where the spouses can actively negotiate to finalize the details of their marital settlement agreement.

After the ninety-day period is up, the court may enter the dissolution decree, which details the specifics of the divorce and incorporates the terms of the settlement agreement. When the parties have entered into a settlement agreement, this agreement can be filed with the court and, after review, will serve as the basis for the dissolution decree.

Where a settlement agreement cannot be reached, the parties must instead go through a trial. As in all cases, discovery is gathered by each party, depositions are sometimes taken, settlements are attempted, but if they fail – a trial is held before the court. Each party presents their evidence and their argument as to how the divorce should be finalized to the judge. For example, where custody is contested, each parent may present their argument for why they should have primary physical custody (also called physical care).

The hearing procedure is a much longer process. It costs more in both time and money, and is far more intensive process than a settlement agreement. It typically involves using lawyers to handle disputes, arguing over the production of documents, and can often create a very heated and hostile environment.

For all of these reasons, negotiating mutual terms through a settlement agreement can be a much better option.

Iowa Attorneys Assisting You in the Negotiation of a Marital Settlement Agreement

If you believe that your former spouse would be willing to work with you on a negotiated resolution of your divorce, crafting a marital settlement agreement can be the best way to reach a resolution that protects your financial and family interests, while also minimizing your stress and emotional turmoil.

Family law attorney Jonathan D. Schmidt has helped countless divorcees negotiate a settlement agreement that ensures their future financial stability and relationship with their children – without the need to argue their case in a courtroom.

As a family law attorney who vigorously protects your interests while also encouraging respectful communication and cooperation, Mr. Schmidt will work with you to finalize your divorce in a way that works for you. If you are interested in learning more about marital settlement agreements, contact his office online or at (319) 423-3031.