MSA: The Terms and Conditions of Divorce

A marital separation agreement (MSA) spells out the terms and conditions of a divorce settlement, including the division of the marital estate (the assets and liabilities of the marriage), the terms and conditions of alimony, and child support and visitation.

The MSA memorializes the agreement that divorcing spouses achieve when they agree to end their marriage. Putting the agreement in writing reduces the likelihood of disagreement later, and for this reason an MSA is much more reliable than a verbal agreement between the spouses.

The MSA deals with the division of marital property and debts, the disposition of the marital home, pension plans, tax issues, medical and dental insurance, visitation and child support, and future dispute resolution. The agreement can be very important in the conduct of future relations between the former spouses in connection with child support and visitation.

The MSA can either be incorporated or merged with the final divorce decree. If the agreement is incorporated into the decree, the MSA becomes a court order and is enforceable by the court’s power to find a party in contempt. If it is merged, then the MSA simply has the force of a contract between the parties. Generally, therefore, it is better to incorporate the MSA in the divorce decree.

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