Divorce Papers: Understanding a Marital Settlement Agreement

divorce papers

The final paperwork which both spouses sign at the end of a divorce is commonly referred to as a divorce decree, or divorce papers.  These documents are commonly made up of a Marital Settlement Agreement, and if the parties have minor children, a Parenting Plan as well.   A Marital Settlement Agreement generally outlines how the parties’ financial resources, property, and debts will be allocated after the marriage is dissolved. 

This article will cover some of the common provisions included in Marital Settlement Agreements, to give some insight into common issues in a divorce, and to give you ideas for possible questions to ask your divorce attorney.  To learn more about the general contents of Parenting Plans or Custody Agreements, please read our article here.




A Marital Settlement Agreement will generally include a provision regarding maintenance, commonly referred to as “alimony.”  It would usually contain such details as how much maintenance will be paid, the frequency of payments, and when maintenance payments will end.  If no maintenance will be paid between the parties, language to that effect will generally be included in the agreement. 



Child Support and Child Expenses

If the parties have minor children, responsibilities for child support and other child expenses must be included in the divorce papers.  Generally the agreement will detail how child support was calculated and the frequency and method of payments.  The agreement will also list how the parties will split costs for the children’s educational, medical, extracurricular, and day care expenses. 

If the parties have never been married, and thus are not getting a divorce, financial matters related to their children would be detailed in the Parenting Plan or Custody Agreement




With regards to insurance matters, Marital Settlement Agreements can include the following:

  • Whether both parties will be responsible for carrying their own health insurance, or whether one party will keep the other party on his or her policy after the divorce
  • Which party will have the children under his or her health insurance
  • Whether one of the parties will have the children, or the other spouse as beneficiaries on his or her life insurance after the divorce



Marital Property

A Marital Settlement Agreement will outline the parties’ agreement as to how to divide their property.  This can include, but is not limited to, residential property, physical property, bank accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts and even a spouse’s interest in a business.  This section can include the following:

  • The property that each party will keep
  • Whether any property will be sold after the divorce
  • How the proceeds of a sale of property will be distributed between the parties
  • If ownership of property is transferred, the method and deadline for transfer



Marital Debts

This section will describe how the parties will be responsible for paying off the remaining marital debt between them.  It can list the following:

  • The debts each party will be responsible for paying
  • The percentages of each debt the parties shall be responsible for paying
  • The date and/or methods by which the debts must be paid off

It is important to keep in mind that if one party is named responsible for payment of a particular debt under a Marital Settlement Agreement, the party who actually incurred the debt may still be legally responsible  to pay the creditor or entity which is owed payment.




If the end of the year is approaching, the parties can agree to finalize the divorce in the new year, and file taxes jointly if it will give them additional tax benefits.   The agreement can also detail how the parties will alternate years claiming the children as tax exemptions.



Finalizing the Agreement

Generally a Marital Settlement Agreement is the result of both spouses reaching a settlement in the divorce case.  Once an agreement is reached, both parties will sign the divorce papers.  The Marital Settlement Agreement (and Parenting Plan if the parties have minor children) will be incorporated into a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.  The Judgment is another official legal document which converts the divorce papers into an official court order.  There will generally be a final court date called the prove up, on which the judge will examine the Agreements and determine if they are proper, valid, and truly agreed upon by the parties.  After the divorce papers are signed and entered by a judge, they become an official court order, and both parties are legally obligated to follow the terms of the Marital Settlement Agreement and Parenting Plan going forward.


Each divorce case will have different facts and circumstances, and will likely require different language in the Marital Settlement Agreements.  If you or someone you know is in need of professional assistance with drafting, reviewing, or negotiating divorce papers such as a Marital Settlement Agreement or Parenting Plan, contact our family law attorneys for an initial consultation at (815) 207-9570 or (815) 409-8858.  Our divorce and custody attorneys represent clients throughout Will County, Dupage County and Kendall County.

The information on this site is not legal advice.  Retain an attorney licensed in the state which has jurisdiction over your matter before taking any action which affects your legal issues, legal marital status or custody arrangements, and follow the advice of your retained lawyer.