The Illinois Court system promotes the parties settling their disputes by way of agreements. The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (the “IMDMA”) allows for parties to enter into agreements to resolve their case. Specifically, Section 502 of the IMDMA (750 ILCS 5/502) provides that parties may enter into agreements to resolve issues pertaining to the dissolution of their marriage. This type of agreement is referred to as Marital Settlement Agreement.
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What is a Marital Settlement Agreement?
A Marital Settlement Agreement (commonly referred to as an “MSA”) is an agreement between two parties who are seeking a divorce. MSAs are able to be formed to fit the individual needs of the couple divorcing. MSAs can contain provisions for the division of real estate, personal property, checking and savings accounts, retirement accounts, and more. They can also address issues regarding child support and maintenance, too.
In a way, MSAs are written contracts between the divorcing parties dictating how the separation will proceed, and who will get what assets. The Court will then incorporate the MSA into the Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage (as long as the Court does not find the MSA to be unconscionable), which finalizes the parties’ divorce process.
What are the Benefits of a Marital Settlement Agreement?
Marital Settlement Agreements have many benefits. Some of the benefits include a party spending less time in court, spending less money on the process, facing less hostility between the other party, and, potentially, reaching a faster resolution.
Less Court Time
Most people prefer to spend as much time outside of a courtroom as possible.
Sometimes, parties may agree not only to the divorce itself but also to the terms of the settlement. These are what we refer to as “uncontested matters”. In an uncontested divorce, our office will work on drafting an MSA based on the agreed-upon terms, and typically there is only one court appearance required.
Compare this scenario to one in which the parties do not agree: in a contested matter, the parties may require multiple hearings before the Court before they are able to come to an agreement or before a trial is held. If a party is uncomfortable or nervous about the courtroom environment, this can cause a lot of additional stress.
Sometimes a case can begin as a contested matter but later be settled by an agreement. There is no set point during a case during which a settlement can occur – they can happen at any point so long as the parties are in agreement.
Uncontested matters usually require a lot fewer hours of attorney time to reach a completed MSA. The parties may go over a draft MSA a few times before reaching a final version, and that is very normal. Even with revisions going back and forth, the MSA drafting in an uncontested matter can cost relatively minimal attorney fees and costs.
Compare this scenario with that of a contested matter.
The more times a case appears before a Court, the more pleadings that must be drafted, and the more research that must be completed can cause a client to incur large invoices from their attorney. For example, going to a trial requires the attorney to not only spend long hours in the courtroom on the day of trial, but also requires them to review the case leading up to the trial, not to mention the long process of getting a case ready for trial. In such a situation, the amount of money spent on a divorce can be substantial.
When cases are unnecessarily litigated, the parties can instead attempt to negotiate, thereby decreasing the amount of time and money that will be spent on the case if a successful settlement is reached.
When parties are able to communicate between themselves to reach a settlement, it can create a less hostile or acrimonious process. This can be not only helpful for the parties in the midst of the divorce but also can be helpful for the rest of the family.
For example, when parties are able to peacefully come to an agreement to end their marriage and enter an MSA, the children of those parents are able to exist in a healthier environment. Reaching an amicable conclusion to a marriage can set the standard for how the parties will interact after the Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage is entered, in that parties who know they can effectively communicate with the other can attempt to reach agreements in the future for any issues not contemplated when drafting an MSA. This promotes a healthier family dynamic for the children and parties moving into the future.
Many times, by the time the parties have accepted that it is best to get a divorce, they are anxious to get the process over with in order to embrace the next stage of their life. Reaching an agreement through entering an MSA is a great way to reach that finish line faster. As long as the parties are able to cooperate and complete their respective requirements in a timely manner, then a Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage can occur much more quickly than engaging in an extended litigation.
For example, if a case requires extensive litigation, a divorce will not take a matter of months. Instead, it can take upwards of a year and a half, depending on the situation. Marital Settlement Agreements are a great way to reduce the time spent waiting for the divorce to be finalized.
It is always recommended that parties have an experienced divorce attorney representing them at all stages of the dissolution process, whether your case is contested or not, in order to best protect your interests.