A divorce agreement is a written document that details the arrangement two divorcing spouses have concerning the division of assets, spousal support, and if applicable, child support and child custody.
You may want to use a divorce agreement if, for example, you and your partner have separated and want to formally agree on how you will divide property, any debts, and any childcare responsibilities as you divorce.
How to Write a Divorce Agreement
The divorce agreement is a written list of items and responsibilities split up between two people. It’s important to make sure that the document is enforceable with agreed-upon terms, a pledge to abide by those terms and provide penalties in the event either party fails to hold up their side of the agreement.
When writing a divorce agreement, whether on your own or with a free divorce agreement template, the agreement should have at least the following:
- Specify the parties getting a divorce, their attorneys, the children (if any), and any representatives appointed for the children (although this is less likely in an agreed divorce).
- List the jurisdiction of the court (typically the county and state in which you are divorcing).
- Include the date of marriage, separation, and date of divorce to be signed by the judge.
- Specify the assets and responsibilities that will be divided and shared
- The decree should be specific so that the parties and the court know how the property will be divided. Write in detail what the division of the property will be, taking into account any debts or other encumbrances on real property. Include motor vehicles and concurrent costs. Include financial investment accounts and any stocks and bonds. You can find this information in a mutual divorce agreement listed as financial disclosures for each party. The disclosures will reveal taxes, credit cards, loans, etc. Use captions to separate sections to quickly reference what you earn, own, and owe.
- List the agreed-upon terms related to access to the children, including plans for custody, visitation, family involvement, and support. You can address medical insurance issues here. Remember to cover the division of future educational expenses for the children or any investment accounts held in their name.
- You must have a legal reason, also known as a legal ground, for the divorce. Declare the reason why parties are getting divorced. The legal grounds for divorce vary by state so check with your state laws to determine which reason is appropriate for your situation.
- This section may include Special Warranty Deeds and Powers of Attorney. If you are selling your home, there should be a date and time certain for the execution of any and all closing documents. If such items are relevant to your divorce agreement, you may wish to consult an attorney.
Once you have created the document, you should consult a legal professional to ensure the divorce agreement conforms to the requirements of your state.
What to Include in a Divorce Agreement
Comprehensive Parenting Time Schedule
Include a schedule that is as accurate as possible as it will determine how your child(ren) will share time between parents and homes.
- Designate custody arrangements (e.g., 50/50, 60/40)
- Days and times of the week for physical custody
- Who can make decisions regarding health, education, and other significant matters
- Exact transfer times and specific locations (e.g., home, school)
- Who will drop off or pick up kids from school or attend school events
- Who will have custody of children during school breaks and summer vacations
- Plan time for holidays, birthdays, extended family events, and family vacations
Child Support Decisions
Accurately set out how much each spouse earns and then break down your child’s living expenses into an exact list. This detailed accounting will serve to uphold the child support payment decisions you have made in your divorce agreement. Consult your state child support guidelines and child support laws to determine appropriate child support calculations.
Include a provision requiring the spouse who is paying a support obligation to maintain a life insurance policy in your name in an amount that will support his or her family in the future.
Highlight who is responsible for carrying life insurance for the minor child(ren)
Division of Debts and Assets
Indicate which party should be awarded each asset and who is responsible for paying bills and debts when dividing property. Typically the courts will default to dividing debts and assets equally if no other appropriate arrangement is proposed.
If the parties own real property, like a marital residence, then it should be awarded to one spouse or the parties can agree to sell the real property and split the proceeds. Real property can include any homes, rental properties, land, etc.
Tips for Writing a Divorce Agreement
Consider using a mediator
As you write your divorce agreement, consider whether mediation would be a suitable option for you. Discussing issues with an impartial third party can help resolve them quicker, and you can avoid having the divorce process drawn out in court. Also, depending on the age of your children, mediation could help your kids have a say in their custody arrangements. Speaking frankly with either parent may be too difficult for them. Using a mediator may result in more honest responses, and ultimately, lead to you creating an agreement that satisfies the entire family.
Fully disclose all information
When writing your divorce agreement, it’s essential to list all assets (including gifts, inheritances, and real estate property). Failure to disclose all of your assets could result in future litigation where you could be fined and potentially transfer ownership of the asset to your spouse as a penalty.
Consider also that some states go by community property laws, and others are strictly separate property states. Before sitting down to write your joint divorce papers, consider consulting with a qualified legal professional to ensure you are following state laws regarding divorce.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can create your own divorce papers. When the division of property is fair and reasonable with acceptable custody, parenting times, and support arrangements, you can move ahead with creating your own divorce papers. The papers are usually just a formalization of the initial separation or divorce agreement already in place. However, it’s suggested you have an attorney review the documents before going to court.
You should check with your state and country to determine what documents may be required as they can vary by state. For example, some states will need you to provide Affidavits of Financial Means or Confidential Information Sheets. But the most common documents are:
- Dissolution of Marriage Petition
- Settlement Agreement
- Parenting Plan (if you have children)
- Court cover sheet if needed
- Summons to be served on your spouse (petitioner serves the respondent who has a certain number of days to respond or a default judgment may be given