The most global document prepared by a lawyer on behalf of a divorcing client is the Marital Settlement Agreement. The Marital Settlement Agreement often addresses all economic issues, including spousal support, alimony pendente lite, alimony, counsel fees, equitable distribution of marital assets and identification of non-marital assets. In addition, when children are involved, there may be the question of child support as well as custody issues such as the basic physical custody schedule, holiday schedule, vacation schedule, grandparents’ rights and the like. The marriage settlement agreement will also address post-divorce issues such as division of retirement assets, maintenance of life insurance, and providing security for long-term payments of equitable distribution or alimony.
The primary basis to challenge the validity of a marriage settlement agreement is the failure to provide full and fair disclosure. While many clients and lawyers simply refer to an informal disclosure, the best practice is to summarize the disclosure and recap the asset values being contemplated when arriving at the appropriate equitable distribution of the marital estate. Often the property division is balanced against other provisions for counsel fees, alimony and child support. The client should be prepared to review several drafts of the Marital Settlement Agreement and assist their counsel to identify special financial issues or special needs of the children.