Consult an Attorney Before Signing a Marital Settlement Agreement



One of the most frustrating experiences for family law attorneys is when a client comes to seek our advice for a divorce after he/she has already signed a Settlement Agreement. This happens all too often, and we understand why: People are eager to resolve their domestic difficulties as quickly and economically as possible. But it is extremely important that you take the time and seek the advice you need before entering into a Settlement Agreement. Otherwise, what you think is a simple resolution could turn into a highly controversial matter, while trying to undo what has already been done.

What you may think you are agreeing to may not be allowable by the law of this State and/or may not address your rights and obligations in a divorce action. Legal information obtained on the internet is not a substitute for the knowledge of a competent, licensed attorney. Remember, we all know that you should not rely on the internet to diagnose your health concerns, and just as importantly, you should not rely on information on the internet to resolve your marital difficulties. Here are some things to keep in mind about settlement agreements:

  1. It is extremely difficult to modify a Settlement Agreement after it has been signed. Often Settlement Agreements will include language that states "this provision is non-modifiable." If you sign a Settlement Agreement with that language, absent very specifics circumstances, there is little chance that you would ever be able to change it.

  2. Settlement Agreements are contracts and are legally enforceable as contracts whether they are fair or not. This means that even if a Settlement Agreement is unfair to you, and does not give you the rights to which you are entitled, you are still obligated to abide by it until/unless it is modified or vacated.

  3. Generalizations found on the internet about different areas of law, i.e. alimony, custody, child support, family finances and assets, are often only generalizations and often do not apply to your specific circumstances or state jurisdiction. 

  4. Therapists are not attorneys; they do not know your rights and obligations under the law. Sometimes a therapist will work with spouses to help them come to a settlement agreement without the necessity of court intervention. While there is nothing wrong with working with a therapist to come up with a broad agreement, the advice of a therapist does not replace the advice of an attorney. 

  5. Mediators do not represent your personal interests. Many couples work with a mediator to help them come to a settlement in their case. The role of a mediator is to play an impartial role in helping people resolve their marital difficulties. A mediator is not your advocate, and will not offer you legal advice. The role of an attorney, on the other hand, is to act as your advocate and in your best interest. 

  6. Domestic laws vary from state to state; a sample Settlement Agreement that you find online may not accurately represent the laws in the state of Maryland. Sometimes people use sample settlement agreements that they find online as a basis for their own settlement agreement. This can pose major problems if you are using an Agreement that does not apply the laws of the State of Maryland.

In short, when facing marital difficulties, you must take the route with which you feel most comfortable while also protecting yourself. There is nothing wrong with entering into a Settlement Agreement; in fact, it is often encouraged. But you should never sign a Settlement Agreement without having it reviewed by an experienced family law attorney. We assure you that the time and money it takes to have an attorney review your Settlement Agreement and offer you advice will be extremely minimal compared to the time and money you will face if you enter into a Settlement Agreement that does not protect you.

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