While it is often thought that a Judge determines the terms of a divorce or paternity action, the reality is that, in a majority of cases in Florida, the parties are able to negotiate and settle their case without the necessity of going to trial. The contract that contains all the terms of a divorce is called the “Marital Settlement Agreement” or it may be referred to as the “Mediated Settlement Agreement.” A copy of this agreement is incorporated into a Final Judgment and creates a legally enforceable obligation between the parties in a case.
These agreements can cover a variety of items, including, but not limited to, division of property, division of debt, child custody, alimony, and child support. One of the main advantages of creating a Settlement Agreement is the ability the parties will have to negotiate its terms. This is not the case when you are in front of the Judge. With a Settlement Agreement, the parties can explore different options and decide on what will best suit their lifestyles and their needs.
While many parties do decide to write their own Settlement Agreements, I always advise people to be represented by an Attorney or to, at a minimum, have an Attorney review the terms of their Settlement Agreement before they sign it. I have met many people who simply refused to hire an Attorney because they did not want to spend the money on legal fees. Instead, they decided to use one of the standard forms approved by the Florida Supreme Court. Unfortunately, I have seen these people make significant mistakes in their Settlement Agreements.
It is important to remember that once a Settlement Agreement is signed, there is virtually no going back. A Settlement Agreement is a contract. Absent a showing of fraud or some other extenuating circumstance, a Judge will hold you accountable for all the terms you agreed to in your Settlement Agreement. I have seen a variety of issues come back to haunt parties who did not have air tight Settlement Agreements covering a multitude of contingencies.
Even if you choose not to retain an Orlando attorney in your dissolution of marriage, you can and should consult with an Orlando family law attorney before you sign a Marital Settlement Agreement. The Orlando divorce attorneys at Longwell Lawyers, can suggest proper legal language, highlight important terms that may have been missed, and ensure that your legal rights are protected. If you need help with your Marital Settlement Agreement click or call (407) 553-9599