Articles Posted in Marital Settlement Agreement

In many divorce proceedings, spouses enter into a “marital settlement agreement” or “MSA” in order to resolve some of the more significant issues affecting their family. By doing so, parties hope to reduce or limit the duration of the proceedings as well as any potential disputes. Reaching the decision to divorce can be difficult enough, without the added stress of arguing over property, custody, support, and the like. Questions sometimes arise, however, as to the enforceability of the MSA. It is an agreement, similar to most contracts, which must adhere to certain legal qualifications in order to be enforceable. If you are considering divorce, it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney as early as possible in the process. A local San Diego lawyer would be able to help you navigate the system, while addressing the relevant legal issues in an efficient manner to protect and advance your rights.

In a recent divorce case, characterized as “highly litigated,” the parties disputed the enforceability of a MSA, which allegedly purported to resolve issues such as the division of community property, obligations, and other financial rights and claims. The MSA was allegedly intended to reach a “global settlement” and to be incorporated into the judgment of divorce. Here, the parties married in 1993 and the wife filed for dissolution of marriage in 2007. In 2008, the couple executed the marital settlement agreement, which is at issue in this case. In March 2009, the husband filed a motion to enter judgment based on the agreement, in accordance with Section 664.6 of the state civil procedure code.
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In some divorce proceedings, couples may ask the court to determine the enforceability of the terms contained in various types of agreements, including a marital separation agreement, a prenuptial agreement, or any stipulation affecting the parties’ rights going forward. In performing this task, a judge often seeks to determine the intent of both parties by reviewing the specific language of the agreement as well as the circumstances surrounding its execution. In some cases, the couple may choose to prepare their own agreements, without the assistance of counsel. Drafting a document that will ultimately affect you and your family’s legal and financial rights requires strict attention to detail. Keep in mind that the agreement must also conform with any local laws and rules applicable to the subject matter. Couples in California who are considering a separation or divorce are highly encouraged to seek the assistance of a local San Diego family law attorney who can work to protect your rights throughout each stage of the process.

A recent California case illustrates the importance of obtaining proper legal guidance when preparing agreements that will likely affect the parties’ rights in divorce. Here, the couple’s marriage lasted for 26 years. In 1995, the husband filed for divorce. Neither he nor his wife was represented by counsel. While the husband did not request spousal support, the wife did. In 1996, the husband prepared the stipulation and judgment, which provided (among other things) that the court would reserve “jurisdiction over spousal support for the benefit of both parties until the remarriage or death of either party.” In October 1996, the court entered the stipulation and judgment and did not award spousal support. The husband remarried in the spring of 1997.
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The division of marital assets is often a contentious part of a divorce proceeding. Since California is a “community property” state, this is an extremely important phase in cases arising in this jurisdiction. According to Section 2601 of the Family Code, all property (including assets and debts) accumulated during the marriage is subject to equal division between the separating spouses. In order to identify, characterize, and value the assorted property, spouses are first expected to make sufficient disclosures under the law. Courts have the authority to set aside a judgment if one party fails to adequately disclose interests in marital assets. In order to be sure your financial rights are fully protected in divorce, you are strongly encouraged to contact a local San Diego family law attorney who has extensive experience handling such cases.

In an earlier blog post, we reported on a high profile divorce case involving a former owner of the LA Dodgers. There, a California court reviewed the wife’s petition to set aside the couple’s marital settlement agreement (the “MSA”) and judgment. She argued that her husband did not comply with the Family Code’s disclosure requirements regarding the value of the LA Dodgers, including assets associated with the team. Due to his lack of disclosure, she asserted that he engaged in fraud and that she was entitled to an equal division of assets under state law. Based on his alleged misrepresentations, the wife claimed she had the “mistaken belief” that the team-related assets as a whole were worth only $300 million.
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State law governs virtually every aspect of a divorce proceeding. Each state has its own “family law code” and code of civil procedure that dictate in large part the course of a case. The importance of adhering to each and every legal requirement cannot be overstated, especially when your family’s future is involved. Matters concerning child support are particularly regulated, due to the importance of a child’s welfare and inability to advocate for him or herself. Various local agencies have the authority to step in if there are complaints about one party’s failure to make child support payments. Sorting through the legal options can become somewhat complicated. With respect to any aspect of a divorce proceeding, parties are encouraged to contact an experienced family law attorney who is fully aware of the legal procedures affecting cases in the San Diego area.

A recent divorce case illustrates some of the legal issues that can arise when one parent is alleged to have avoided court-ordered child support obligations. In this matter, the couple divorced in 2004. The dissolution judgment incorporated the terms of their marital settlement agreement (“MSA”). The MSA provided in part that the parents would share equally certain of the children’s expenses and costs. The agreement further itemized the amount of child support for which both parties would be responsible. In 2011, the San Diego County Department of Child Support Services filed motions seeking to enforce the dissolution judgment.
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Divorce by its very nature tends to create an adversarial relationship between the once-aligned spouses. There is no doubt that the parties will seek to protect their own, now-individual, financial, practical, and emotional interests — perhaps even at the other party’s expense. But in most cases, the couple could benefit from reaching a consensus or at least some mutually agreeable middle ground when it comes to some of the more serious issues to be resolved in divorce. Accomplishing this difficult task can save the parties time, money, and heartache. An experienced San Diego family law attorney would work to foster such an agreement under the appropriate circumstances.

It is important to keep in mind that not all agreements are made in good faith, and that some parties may not comply with promises made. In a recent California case, In re Marriage of Montague and Montague, stemming from a divorce judgment entered in 1993, the ex-wife Judy filed a motion with the court to protect her interests in the former couple’s marital residence. According to the facts of the underlying case, the couple agreed to a stipulation on certain issues. Under the terms, the couple’s two children were to live with Judy in the family’s “primary residence.” The home was worth less at the time of the divorce than what they had paid for it in 1988.
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When a couple chooses to end a marriage, they must sort through a variety of important financial and emotional issues, such as the division of marital property and spousal support. If there are children involved, they must also address matters of custody, visitation, and child support. One way families can attempt to resolve these issues is through a process known as mediation. In mediation, an impartial third party — the mediator – assists the spouses in reaching an agreement they can both accept. However, considering the nature of divorce, mediation may only be beneficial under certain circumstances. If you are considering divorce or legal separation, it is important to contact an experienced San Diego family law attorney who can guide you through the process with confidence and ease.

In a recent California divorce case, the parties had been married for 16 years and had two children. During the marriage, the wife was a “stay-at-home” mom, and the husband was a doctor and “successful businessman.” After the wife filed for divorce, the couple agreed to resolve their support and property issues through mediation, without the assistance of counsel. The mediation resulted in a signed marital settlement agreement (“MSA”) that provided in part that the husband would pay the wife $10 million to fully satisfy her community interest in the shares of the business, escreen, Inc. The parties signed declarations that both preliminary and final disclosures had been served on the other party in accordance with Family Code provisions.
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Marriage and divorce are highly regulated by state law. Since each state has the authority to enact laws governing divorce, there is a substantial amount of variation from one jurisdiction to the next. But what happens when a married couple lives in one jurisdiction and pursues a divorce in another? How do the courts handle such a situation? Which state has the authority to dissolve the marriage? Like most family law matters, it usually depends on the facts and circumstances surrounding the case. No matter what the facts are, if you are considering a divorce, you are encouraged to consult with an experienced family law attorney who is fully aware of the local laws and court rules affecting your case.

A recent divorce case invoked the family law statutes of both California and Guam. Here, the couple entered into a marital settlement agreement in California in 2011. A month later, a court in Guam issued a judgment of divorce and a final decree. According to the judgment, the matter had been uncontested, and the court had jurisdiction based on the husband’s residency in Guam for seven days. The wife had consented to the case being heard as a “default matter.” The court further approved the terms of the marital settlement agreement and ordered the parties to adhere to it. Despite these proceedings, the wife filed a petition to dissolve the marriage in 2013 in California. The husband moved to quash the action based on the 2011 final judgment of divorce entered by the court in Guam.
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Each divorce case presents a unique set of facts and important circumstances that can dramatically affect the course of the proceedings. Equally relevant is the California Family Code and how it will apply to these individual cases. When a couple decides to divorce, it is best to be as informed as possible before initiating the proceeding, which includes understanding how the local laws will affect your family. The Code addresses issues such as spousal support, the division of marital property, and child custody. An experienced family law attorney from the San Diego area would be able to navigate the legal framework with a precise focus on the facts of your particular case.

A recent case illustrates the extent to which family law cases vary. Three days after the husband filed for legal separation, the wife began serving a six-year prison term. Here, the couple had been married for over 23 years and had three adult children. In 2010, the wife was sentenced to prison after being convicted of unlawful sexual behavior with a minor. The court ordered the husband to pay the wife $500 per month of temporary spousal support, until remarriage, death, or further court order. The husband amended his filing to request dissolution of marriage.

In July 2012, the wife was permitted to leave prison to attend a settlement conference. The couple reached an agreement (with counsel present), dividing their assets and providing that long-term spousal support would be addressed “when the wife is released from prison.” The court stated that the issue of spousal support would be reserved. The husband’s attorney prepared the stipulated judgment, which provided that the court would reserve jurisdiction to award long-term spousal support until the wife’s release from prison, as well as other eventualities.
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While divorce is a difficult process, there are many cases where the parties actually work together to come to an agreement on the significant issues that must be resolved, such as child support, division of property, and spousal support. By agreeing and stipulating to certain terms, the couple can avoid having a judge devise an order that will affect their family going forward. If the parties are able to come to an agreement, a court will simply need to approve the agreed-upon terms. In order to ensure that your negotiations appropriately address the necessary topics, while protecting your rights, it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney who is fully familiar with the laws affecting families in and around the San Diego area.

In a recent California divorce case, In re Marriage of Roberta Sala-Clow and Tracy Clow, the wife attempted to avoid complying with an agreed-upon stipulation after her husband died in a car accident. Here, the couple married in 1991 and in January 2010, the wife filed an action to dissolve the marriage. On June 1, 2012, the parties signed a handwritten stipulation purporting to resolve support and property matters. The document contained a statement indicating that the parties had both read and understood the stipulation and agreement. The couple requested that the court integrate the stipulation and agreement into the court’s order. Sadly, the husband died in a car accident on June 6, 2012. On June 8, 2012, the court filed the stipulation and order for judgment that was signed by the parties and their attorneys.

The husband’s attorney asked the court to sign and enter a stipulated judgment pursuant to the agreement the parties executed on June 1, 2012, and to issue an order terminating the parties’ marital status as of June 1. According to the court, the wife opposed the motion and tried to “undo” the stipulated judgment by claiming her husband’s death terminated the marriage by operation of law, thereby stripping the family court of any jurisdiction over the case. The trial court concluded that it would be a “miscarriage of justice” if it did not enter the judgment and therefore granted the motion to enter judgment in accordance with the handwritten stipulation as of June 1. The court pointed out that under California Family Code Section 2346, it had the power to dissolve the marriage after the death of one of the parties.
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Courts are often called upon to interpret or construe assorted statutory provisions. When an appellate court is faced with an issue of statutory construction, it is considered a question of law and subject to an independent review. In a recent case, In re Marriage of Evans, the court of appeals reviewed an issue of “first impression” in California, namely whether the Family Code should be interpreted to require the exchange of disclosure declarations before the parties enter into a pre-petition (for divorce) agreement resolving their rights to property. When an issue is of “first impression,” it means that the courts in California have not yet addressed the specific issue presented, and by virtue of the decision, will be issuing new case law. Therefore, it is imperative that parties seeking a divorce consult with an experienced family law attorney from the San Diego area who is fully familiar with all of the recent court decisions and applicable laws affecting divorce cases.

In this case, the court examined the provisions of Chapter 9 of the Code and determined that the law does not apply to pre-petition agreements. Here, the parties were married in 1985 and separated in March 2007. Their home was the only significant asset in their marital estate. The spouses agreed that the husband would buy out the wife’s interest in the residence, and the wife even typed up a “Pre-Divorce Agreement” reflecting their wishes. They both signed the document on May 5, 2007. The agreement explicitly provides that it was made in contemplation of divorce. Before they signed the agreement, however, neither party served the other with a preliminary or final disclosure declaration. Once the agreement was signed, the husband paid the wife accordingly.

In 2009, the wife filed for divorce and in early 2010, both parties served disclosure declarations on each other. Under Chapter 9 of the Family Code, parties seeking to divorce are required to prepare and serve both preliminary and final disclosure declarations of assets and liabilities on each other. The husband argued that the agreement was unenforceable under Chapter 9 because the parties did not exchange disclosure declarations before they signed the agreement. He claimed that the statute should be interpreted to require such an exchange of information before they entered into the pre-petition agreement resolving their property rights. The trial court disagreed and held that the pre-petition agreement was enforceable. After reviewing the statute and the legislative intent behind its construction, the court of appeals affirmed, holding (among other things) that service of a preliminary disclosure is not required before a petition for divorce is filed. Instead, the filing of the petition is what prompts the requirement for an exchange of such information. The court held that Chapter 9 and its requirements for exchanges of disclosure declarations do not apply to pre-petition agreements.
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