Our Family Law Attorneys specialize in drafting marital agreements that protect you and your loved ones.
Your family law attorney's experience is an invaluable asset that you can use to evaluate when to settle and when to fight on. The experienced lawyers and attorneys at our family law firm in Bucks County can help you determine whether an agreement is appropriate for your circumstances. In addition, we can provide the guidance and representation necessary in negotiating a marital agreement.
Below are the types of marital agreements we negotiate and draft:
In some circumstances, individuals intending to marry may want a premarital agreement (sometimes called a prenuptial agreement). As a result, the commitments that go hand-in-hand with their marriage vows become protected contractually. In Pennsylvania, questions may arise about the enforceability of a premarital agreement. However, courts generally uphold premarital agreements with full and fair financial disclosure.
Typically, couples seek a premarital agreement with substantial individual or family assets involved, such as trusts or inheritances. Consequently, the parties want to exclude those assets from the pool of marital property versus having a divorce court distribute the assets between the parties. However, if the parties already have children, it may be best to place the children's interests ahead of the future spouse's interests.
Upon marriage, certain rights arise under probate law. For example, the right to take against a deceased spouse's estate even if the will excludes the surviving spouse. However, a well-written premarital agreement can supersede rights that would otherwise exist under probate law.
Because each premarital agreement is unique and intended to address many situations, you should not settle for a "cookie-cutter" agreement. Therefore, discussing what provisions you do and do not want in the premarital agreement with a family law attorney is essential. Furthermore, straightforward language and full and fair disclosure are imperative to waive rights that would otherwise flow from the marriage and protect the enforceability of a Premarital Agreement.
Postnuptial Marital Agreements
After a couple marries, they may want to reach a postnuptial agreement. That agreement presents certain rights and responsibilities that will bind the other party in the event of separation, divorce, or death. Such a marital agreement replaces the rights and interests that would typically flow from their marriage. For example, if the parties eventually obtain a divorce, the Divorce Code contemplates binding of a postnuptial agreement. Moreover, the court can issue an interim order enforcing the contract. However, the validity of a postnuptial agreement may come into play if one of the spouses becomes disabled and seeks government benefits.
Courts may uphold even the most drastic agreement between a husband and wife that extinguishes valuable rights and responsibilities. So creating a do-it-yourself agreement can lead to devastating, unintended consequences. Therefore, it is crucial to get legal counsel from a qualified family law attorney. A one-sided marital agreement can bind you, or an otherwise fair postnuptial agreement may be subject to defeat due to lack of consideration or fair disclosure.
Sometimes, a married couple separates and makes specific commitments based on that separation. The law addressing separation agreements focuses explicitly on the reason for the contract. If the terms apply to physical separation, reconciliation may void or cancel the agreement. For example, if the agreement intends to determine whether or not the parties live in the same household, your family law attorney must draft careful language addressing that distinction. The language of the separation agreement should explain how the parties overcome the presumption of separation if reconciliation occurs.
The agreement often addresses limited issues, such as interim support or interim custody provision. It may also address the preservation of assets. Since the accumulation of marital assets generally ends on the date of separation, identification and protection of those assets will be critical. Talk to your family lawyer about the growth of marital assets after separation. It's essential to determine if the appreciation is considered marital property if the parties divorce.
Marital Settlement Agreements
The marital settlement agreement is the most global document prepared by a family law attorney on behalf of a divorcing client. Typically, it addresses all economic issues, including:
- Spousal support
- Alimony pendente lite
- Counsel fees
- Equitable distribution of marital assets
- Identification of non-marital assets.
In addition, there may be questions about child support and custody issues with children involved. Those questions may include the custody schedule, holiday schedule, vacation schedule, grandparents' rights, and so on. Finally, the marriage settlement agreement also addresses post-divorce issues. Those issues may include dividing retirement assets, maintaining 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 failure to provide full and fair disclosure. While many clients and family lawyers refer to an informal disclosure, the best practice is to summarize the disclosure. Then, recap the asset values contemplated when arriving at the appropriate equitable distribution of the marital estate. Often the property division balances against other provisions for counsel fees, alimony, and child support. In addition, you should be prepared to review several drafts of the marital settlement agreement. Finally, you need to assist your family law attorney in identifying the children's special financial issues or special needs.
Any individual contemplating a commitment to live with another and purchase assets jointly would be wise to consult a family lawyer about a cohabitation agreement. This advice applies to same-sex couples and other couples who may choose not to marry.
If a married couple wants to end their relationship, a divorce court has the power to achieve economic justice by distributing the couple's marital assets equitably. Equitable principles, however, need not be applied to an unmarried couple that separates. Unfortunately, problems arise when an unmarried couple has acquired real estate as joint owners.
Under divorce principles of equitable distribution, the court reviews the source of funds to obtain the jointly-held property. However, only common law principles of property law apply to an unmarried couple. Today regardless of contribution, a 50-50 split is likely the outcome. So, suppose an unmarried couple decides to buy property but makes disproportionate contributions toward the purchase. In that case, you cannot assume that the proceeds a party will receive upon the sale of the property will reflect their more significant contribution.
In some circumstances, one party to a non-marital relationship will sacrifice their career to care for a child born to the couple. However, that unmarried parent has no protection by spousal support, alimony, or exclusive possession of a jointly-owned residence ordered by a divorce court. A cohabitation agreement, or even a later co-parenting agreement, could address economic issues such as these. Without such an agreement, you may lose your home when you separate. Protection for the parent who sacrificed their career is lost.
Talk to Our Family Law Attorneys
Marital agreements are complex. It pays to work with a family law attorney to execute them properly and avoid further issues. Our family lawyers work with clients in Montgomery and Bucks counties. They'll listen to your needs and concerns to get the job done correctly. Call our law offices today. We're here to help.