What happens if a marital settlement agreement is incomplete?

On Behalf of | Mar 7, 2024 | Divorce

A marital settlement agreement (MSA) is a structured plan for life after divorce in Florida. It specifies how divorcing parties will divide assets and liabilities. It also details arrangements for their children, such as custody and timesharing schedules, ensuring both parents’ responsibilities and rights are clearly defined.

But when details in this document are vague or ambiguous, it can lead to certain issues that can complicate the divorce process, such as misinterpretations leading to disputes and difficulties in enforcement.

Different interpretations

An MSA that isn’t clear or complete can cause disputes. This can happen when parties interpret its terms in different ways. For instance, if the MSA says that a shared car will be “divided” but doesn’t specify how, it could lead to different assumptions. One spouse might think this means they sell the car and split the money, while the other might assume they get to keep the car and just pay the other spouse their share.

These misunderstandings can escalate into arguments or even legal action, increasing the stress of divorce.

Enforcement issues

When an MSA isn’t clear in areas like property division, alimony terms and custody, it can affect the enforceability of these matters. For example, if the MSA doesn’t clearly define alimony payment terms and duration, and the party responsible for payments doesn’t pay, it can be hard for the court to decide the right enforcement action.

Even without an MSA, courts can enforce divorce-related matters. However, having an explicit agreement can streamline this process and reduce confusion. Without a detailed MSA, the court might need to interpret and apply the law, which could lead to unexpected results. So, a well-drafted, clear MSA is very helpful, even if not strictly necessary for enforcement.

What spouses should do

Spouses can prevent these issues by working together to create an agreement with all necessary information. This includes:

  1. Accurate details of all assets, like real estate, bank accounts, and personal property.
  2. A clear outline of all liabilities, including mortgages, credit card debts and other financial obligations.
  3. Specific plans for custody and visitation schedules.
  4. Detailed plans for alimony provisions and how to divide retirement accounts, health insurance and other benefits.

Drafting an agreement with these provisions requires understanding state laws and other legal matters, which can be complex. A legal professional can help cover all these aspects, ensuring the MSA is fair and enforceable.