Marital Settlement Agreements

Marital Settlement Agreements in New Jersey

You’ve worked hard throughout your marriage, and you want to protect what you’ve earned and divide it in a way that’s fair to you.  You’re concerned about how the divorce will affect your children, and you want a clear written agreement in place once you’ve talked out all the issues in negotiations.  After the hard work of negotiating an alimony scheme that is favorable to you, you want it recorded clearly so there are no surprises or misunderstandings.  Your spouse has engaged in some questionable practices, or maybe has agreed to take on a majority of the marital debt, and you want to be shielded from liability in the future.

Keith Family Law has helped hundreds of divorcing New Jersey clients negotiate comprehensive Marital Settlement Agreements that successfully meet their unique needs and challenges.  Our family law team helps to provide peace of mind to ensure you’re covered for every possibility, addressing issues that you might not even realize need to be discussed and agreed upon.

What Is a Marital Settlement Agreement?

A Marital Settlement Agreement (or “MSA”) is a legally binding agreement entered into by a divorcing couple after they agree upon how they will divide their assets and allocate their debts, what will happen with their house, how they will address alimony and child support, what they agree on as to child custody and a parenting plan (visitation), and additional issues such as future tax filings and college contribution for the children.

The Marital Settlement Agreement is a document that governs alimony, child support, child custody, division of property (equitable distribution), and future support for children and spouses in the event of a change of circumstances such as retirement.  The Marital Settlement Agreement is legally binding on both spouses and clearly spells out the obligations and responsibilities of each spouse going forward.

What’s In a Marital Settlement Agreement, and Why Is It So Important?

A Marital Settlement Agreement governs your post-divorce life, so it is very important that it be carefully negotiated and drafted. It is about protection for you after your divorce, dividing your assets and liabilities, setting custody and parenting time, and setting clear expectations and understandings about financial and custody matters right from the start - ideally in a way that avoids any trouble after the divorce is done.

Some of the key areas that a Marital Settlement Agreement covers include:

  • Division of Property (Equitable Distribution). This outlines how your marital assets, including real estate, savings, investments, and personal property, will be divided.
  • Debt Allocation and Protection. A Marital Settlement Agreement divides the marital debt, and shields one spouse from being liable for the other’s agreed-upon debt.
  • Business Ownership. A Marital Settlement Agreement divides business interests and protects a business owner from interference by the other spouse after the divorce.
  • Retirement Accounts and Pensions. The Agreement will specify how retirement accounts and pensions will be divided, or kept by a spouse and waived by the other spouse.
  • Spousal Support (Alimony). The Agreement gives details about alimony, including the amount and duration, and how alimony can be affected by events like cohabitation and retirement.
  • Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time). The Agreement should give specific details about who has legal custody, who has physical custody, and what the parenting time plan is, including school vacations, holidays, and special occasions like birthdays and Mother’s / Father’s Day.  

The MSA is the legally binding document that governs your post-divorce life, and so it is critical to get your negotiations right and that your terms are accurately drafted into your Marital Settlement Agreement, without any unintended consequences, and in language that is most favorable to you by a skilled divorce attorney.

Jeff and Susan: Divorce Negotiation And Marital Settlement Agreement

Jeff serves as a Vice President at a prominent company in New York City, while Susan has been a stay-at-home mom for many years. They own a house in Summit, New Jersey and have two children, Aiden and Zoe. 

Jeff and Susan each hired skilled divorce attorneys, knowledgeable in New Jersey family law, to advocate for their interests. The negotiation process was primarily conducted through a series of strategic letters between the attorneys, detailing proposed terms and counter-proposals. This phase was crucial as it allowed each party to clearly articulate their interests and understand the other’s position without direct confrontation.

After many issues were fleshed out, Jeff and Susan held a four-way settlement conference, attended by both parties and their attorneys, to come to final terms. 

Settlement Highlights

  • Assets and Debts. The couple agreed to equally divide their bank accounts. Jeff assumed all marital debts, reflecting his higher earning capacity.
  • Alimony. Susan was awarded alimony of $7,000 per month for eleven years, acknowledging her non-financial contributions to the marriage and allowing her time to gain financial independence.
  • Child Custody and Support. Susan obtained primary residential custody of the children, with Jeff receiving substantial parenting time, including alternate weekends and an overnight stay every Wednesday. They agreed to alternate holidays and special events. Jeff committed to a child support payment of $2,500 per month, with provisions for adjustment upon major changes in the children’s status, such as college attendance or emancipation.
  • Educational and Health Expenses. Jeff took on the responsibility for all private school and college expenses for Aiden and Zoe. He also agreed to cover health insurance for the children and maintain Susan’s coverage under COBRA at his expense.
  • Marital Residence.  Susan was allowed to keep the marital residence, and she must refinance the mortgage to remove Jeff’s name.
  • Tax Implications. The agreement allowed Susan to claim both children on her tax returns, which can provide significant tax benefits annually.

Provisions for Future Disputes

To head off potential future disputes, Jeff and Susan’s agreement included a clause that they would first bring any non-emergent disagreements to mediation before filing any court motions. This ensures that both parties have a chance to resolve issues amicably with legal support.

Importance of Vigorous Legal Representation

After the negotiations were concluded, Jeff and Susan’s divorce attorneys drafted a Marital Settlement Agreement accurately setting forth all of their agreed-upon terms, and other terms that protect them both from future harm and strengthen the enforceability of their agreement.  Because the Marital Settlement Agreement is effective on the day that it is signed, and does not expire, it is critically important to have vigorous and attentive legal representation throughout negotiations and especially through the drafting process.  Each word of the Marital Settlement Agreement is meaningful and has real consequences, and must be drafted extremely carefully and in your best interests.


Jeff and Susan’s approach, through vigorous attorney-led negotiations and a conclusive four-way settlement conference, exemplifies a powerful and traditional method of divorce negotiation. This method allowed them to thoroughly explore and resolve disputes with clear legal guidance, resulting in a comprehensive Marital Settlement Agreement tailored to their family’s needs.

If you are facing a similar situation, Keith Family Law can provide you with the robust legal support you need to negotiate your divorce with confidence and strategic foresight. 

Every end is a new beginning

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