Texas Divorce Laws

Divorce Settlement Agreement in Texas: What Is It?

By:
Sophia Merton
Updated
July 16, 2022

Family law courts in Texas always encourage divorcing couples to reach agreements on any and all issues whenever possible. When the two of you are able to agree to the same terms in regards to property division, spousal support, child support, and more, it means you can maintain some control over the outcome of your post-divorce life. If you don’t reach a divorce settlement agreement in Texas, however, the court will decide on any contested issues for you.

The average length of a marriage that ends in divorce is a little short of eight years. If a couple accrues property and debts during this time and starts a family, all of these issues will have to be dealt with in a divorce settlement agreement to avoid them being determined by a court.

Couples are even more incentivized to come to a settlement on their own in Texas because the Lone Star State is a community property state. This means that, in many instances, marital property and debts will be split 50/50.

Let’s take a look at what you need to know about divorce settlement agreements in Texas.

What Is a Divorce Settlement Agreement?

man signing divorce settlement agreement in texas

When you and your spouse are able to come to an agreement regarding the terms of your divorce, they can be memorialized in a divorce settlement agreement.

A divorce settlement agreement is a document that memorializes an agreement that is made between divorcing spouses. These contracts might cover issues including division of property, alimony, and more. In Texas, these documents are referred to as divorce settlement agreements. You might come across these agreements being referred to by a number of variations of this name, including:

  • Custody, Support, and Property Agreement
  • Separation Agreement
  • Separation and Property Settlement Agreement
  • Collaborative Settlement Agreement
  • Mediated Settlement Agreement
  • Marital Settlement Agreement
  • Property Settlement Agreement

The state of Texas doesn’t recognize legal separation. Couples that want to separate in Texas might choose to create a separation agreement, as it outlines requirements for property rights, financial support, or visitation and is therefore similar in concept to a legal separation.

Couples that undergo mediation in Texas will, if all goes according to plan, create a mediated settlement agreement, while couples that go through the process of a collaborative divorce will create a collaborative settlement agreement.

What to Know About Texas Divorce Settlement Agreements

two people reaching to touch eachothers hands in divorce negotiations in texas

Though it can be difficult to agree on the terms of a divorce with your soon-to-be-ex, it's often the preferable option over going to trial.

When you get a divorce in Texas, there’s a good chance that you and your spouse don’t agree on absolutely everything when it comes to dividing property, spousal support, and other issues. However, going through divorce litigation can be incredibly costly both financially and emotionally. If you and your spouse are willing to come to an agreement through a written divorce settlement agreement, you can significantly reduce the negative impact that divorce has on your wallet and your mental health.

When you create a settlement agreement in Texas, you are required to resolve all issues related to alimony and asset division. If the two of you have minor children, you will also need to resolve all matters related to child support and custody.

If you and your spouse can agree on all of the relevant issues, your divorce settlement agreement will usually be reviewed by a court. It is required that the terms of the contract do not result from duress or fraud and that they are fair and just.

Your Texas divorce settlement agreement will be approved if the court doesn’t find any issues when reviewing your agreement. It will then be incorporated into the final decree of divorce.

You are allowed a lot of leeway and discretion in the way you create your divorce settlement agreement in Texas. Your settlement doesn’t have to mirror what you would expect a judge would award you in a hearing, and, so long as your agreement doesn’t violate public policy or law, you can agree on whichever terms suit you both best.

What Are the Benefits of a Divorce Settlement Agreement in Texas?

books of public records containing divorce records in texas

There are a number of benefits to reaching a settlement in a Texas divorce before the case goes to court, including keeping the details of your divorce from being publicly available.

One of the major benefits of a divorce settlement agreement is that it can save you the time, expense, and grief of going through a litigious, adversarial divorce. When you work to create a divorce settlement that fits the needs of everyone involved, it can also help encourage a healthy transition to post-divorce life.

Another huge perk of going this route is that you and your spouse get to decide how you will deal with alimony, child custody, child support, and property division. These incredibly intimate of your life aren’t left up to a stranger (in the form of a judge) to decide.

Your communication after divorce can also be improved by creating a settlement rather than taking a divorce through litigation, particularly if there are children involved and you have to cooperate for parenting purposes.

The risk of future conflict is also reduced by creating a settlement rather than battling it out in court. When you sign the agreement, you are agreeing to abide by its terms. Through the process of negotiation and creating the final settlement, you have the opportunity to think through how you really want your post-divorce situation to play out. When it’s decided by a judge after an adversarial trial, there’s a lot more room for bitterness, resentment, and hard feelings.

Lastly, creating a divorce settlement agreement means that you and your spouse can keep sensitive personal information from becoming a part of the public record. When you go to trial, just about anyone can access information from your case if they want to.

When Is a Settlement Agreement Not Appropriate in a Texas Divorce?

sillouhette of texas woman hiding assets in divorce

Reaching a settlement is preferable in most cases. However, in some circumstances, such as a spouse that is likely to hide assets or conceal information, a settlement might not be the right choice.

When you want to sort out the details of your divorce in the least combative way possible, a settlement agreement is a way to go. In some situations, though, this simply might not be possible. Here are a few examples of instances where a settlement agreement might not be appropriate:

  • One party is likely to conceal information or hide assets
  • There have been incidents of domestic violence in the marriage
  • One spouse doesn’t have the mental capacity to manage their affairs on their own

It’s also important to not allow yourself to be so cooperative and open-minded that you end up getting a raw deal in a divorce settlement. It’s great to have an amicable divorce, but you don’t want to be so committed to that outcome that you create negative outcomes in your post-divorce life.

For example, a husband that is deeply upset by a divorce might choose to just “give her everything.” The prospect of going through the negotiation process might feel impossibly painful, and the instinct is to just get it over with. However, it’s important to remember that once the grief of divorce has passed, the conditions of the agreement will still be in place. Make sure you aren’t sacrificing essential needs for the sake of being a “good sport” or not wanting to seem confrontational.

Are you worried that your spouse is going to play games when it comes to divorce? Check out these sneaky divorce tactics to watch out for.

What Issues Do a Divorce Settlement Resolve in Texas?

All of the primary issues in a divorce can be dealt with in a divorce settlement agreement in Texas. These include property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support.

Property Division

If you and your spouse don’t reach a settlement agreement, how your marital assets and debts are divided will be determined by a Texas divorce court. They will do so based on the community property laws in the state.

Usually, this will mean that everything acquired during the marriage will be split 50/50 except for separate property owned by each spouse.

The following items are considered separate property and won’t be subject to division in a divorce trial:

  • Property acquired before marriage
  • Property acquired through inheritance or gift
  • Certain damages awards resulting from personal injury lawsuits
  • Property acquired using the proceeds resulting from separate property

When you create a divorce settlement agreement, you can divide your property and debts in any way that you and your spouse choose. You can resolve a number of issues in your settlement, including:

  • An accurate valuation of community assets
  • Proper allocation of community debts
  • How marital property will be divided and distributed
  • Whether a specific asset will be considered separate or community property

While you have a lot of leeway in terms of how you divide your assets in a divorce settlement agreement, it’s important to remember that courts must still approve the document. If the court finds that the agreement isn’t fair or reasonable, it will probably be sent back to all involved parties in order to be revised.

Spousal Support and Alimony

You can also outline the terms of any spousal support that will be paid from one spouse to the other. This might be a temporary arrangement to help a lower-earning spouse find the means to support themselves financially on their own, or it might be a longer-term or even permanent arrangement. In most instances, it is used as a way for an economically dependent spouse to have the opportunity to become self-sufficient.

Child Support and Conservatorship

If there are minor children in your family, you’ll also have to come to an agreement on the issues of custody, visitation, and child support. In the state of Texas, legal custody is referred to as conservatorship, and visitation is referred to as possession.

Just like property settlements, the court will look closely at the agreement you and your spouse come to about conservatorship and visitation to make sure it is fair to all parties involved, including the children.

The court will always act from a place of what is in the best interest of the children involved. You also won’t be able to limit the child support obligation of one parent if the proposed amount is less than the amount Texas law would require.

What Happens If You Don’t Abide By a Divorce Settlement Agreement?

When you sign a divorce settlement agreement, you are signing a legal contract. This means that the document has the force of the court behind it.

If your spouse doesn’t abide by the agreement outlined in the settlement, it can feel incredibly distressing. You’ll want to consult with your lawyer to determine what the right steps are in your situation. In general, though, you might want to:

  • Document the noncompliance: Keep all relevant records, send an email to put your concerns down in writing, save relevant social media content and text messages, and take pictures if appropriate and relevant.
  • Try talking with your ex-spouse: Unless your spouse is totally uncooperative or violent, it’s likely a good idea to try and talk to them about their violation of the agreement. They might not even realize that they are in breach of contract, or they might not understand the weight of what they’re doing.
  • Seek a modification in court: If the situation can be remedied by making some changes to the divorce agreement, you might choose to make a legal filing seeking a modification of the agreement.
  • Contempt of court: The most extreme option on the table is filing for contempt of court. It’s important to understand that this can be a criminal charge and can even result in jail time if the circumstance is serious enough. Your divorce lawyer will be able to help you determine whether going this route is appropriate or not.

Divorce is a deeply emotional process, and you might find that, with a little space and perspective, the ways in which your spouse isn’t complying with the document are not realistically harmful or problematic. For example, it might be irritating for your spouse to be five minutes late to pick up your children, but it probably isn’t enough for a judge to grant a motion for contempt of court.

On the other hand, if your spouse is drastically not abiding by the contract, such as not transferring property to you that was identified in the settlement agreement, or not allowing you your allotted custody time, it’s possible that taking it to court would be successful.

Are you wondering how much a divorce is going to cost you? This guide goes over the cost of divorce in Texas.

Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce Settlement Agreements

If you're beginning the divorce process, it's totally natural to have a lot of questions. Let's look at some of the most common questions about divorce settlement agreements.

Is It Necessary to Have a Lawyer Prepare a Divorce Settlement Agreement?

It is generally recommended that individuals hire an attorney in order to prepare the divorce settlement agreement. If your spouse has hired a lawyer and they’ve already drafted an agreement, it’s highly advised that you hire your own attorney to help you review it. They will be able to help ensure that essential legal provisions are present, removed, or corrected in order to make sure your rights are protected.

When you aren’t a lawyer, it can be difficult to understand the full weight of what legal terms can mean. For example, “timely indemnify and hold harmless” might just sound like flowery legal terminology, but they have very important meanings that will impact your life.

Divorce is a complicated process, and without a lawyer, you can overlook something that will have a real impact on your post-divorce experience. You also might not know what words you will need to include in order for your interests to be fully protected.

Hiring a lawyer is expensive, and, for that reason, many people try to avoid doing so. If you end up in a situation where you lose important rights or the divorce settlement isn’t actually something that works for you, though, you’ll wish you had been willing to hire a legal professional to assist your navigation of the process.

Are you interested in whether or not you're a good candidate for a DIY divorce? Check out this article about divorce in Texas without a lawyer.

What If I’m Not Comfortable With My Spouse’s Proposal?

If you don’t like what your spouse (and their attorney) proposed for a divorce settlement agreement, don’t sign it. This is just a starting point in the negotiation, not a done deal. You don’t even have to respond by a deadline set by your spouse and their attorney if you don’t want to. You cannot be forced to sign a settlement agreement until you are ready and willing to do so.

That being said, waiting too long can cause practical problems. If you won’t sign anything as a power play or refuse to negotiate in good faith, there’s a reasonable chance that your spouse will get frustrated and remove themselves from the negotiations altogether. If you are committed to reaching a settlement so the case doesn’t have to go to trial, you’ll need to be open-minded to compromising and working towards an agreement you can both live with.

It’s always a good idea to have a lawyer review a proposed divorce settlement agreement. Your attorney can help you negotiate a better deal if you aren’t happy with the proposal.

Should I Sign My Spouse’s Proposed Divorce Settlement Agreement If It Seems Reasonable to Me?

Even if the settlement proposal looks great to you, you still want to have your own attorney review the settlement. Sometimes, a spouse or their lawyer might try to pressure you into just signing to keep the process simple. However, having someone that is working to protect your interests is very important during this process.

Your spouse's attorney might be very cordial towards you, but that doesn’t mean they represent you. They fundamentally don’t care if you receive a fair deal in a settlement, as their client is your spouse.

Can My Spouse and I Write Our Own Agreement?

Even if you and your spouse agree on everything and the whole process is amicable, it’s usually not a good idea to write your own settlement agreement. It’s possible that you will miss important legal provisions or your agreement might not be as specific as Texas law requires.

If there ends up being a conflict about the contract later on, you could end up having to hire lawyers to fix or clarify the agreement down the road.

That being said, you and your spouse might choose to avoid hiring lawyers and pursue an agreed divorce if your circumstance is fairly simple. You aren’t required to have an attorney to file or respond to a divorce case, but the more complicated the case, the more advisable it is to hire an attorney.

Can My Spouse and I Hire One Lawyer to Draft Our Settlement Agreement?

Hiring one lawyer to draft a settlement agreement can seem like a good idea, but it's typically not recommended. To be clear, though, you certainly can do this if you want to.

The reason it might not be the best idea is because one attorney can't represent both of you. That means that you don't have anyone working on your side to look out for your interests. It also leaves things a bit open-ended, as either spouse could end up claiming that they didn't know what they were signing because they didn't have a lawyer.

Additional Resources Regarding Divorce in Texas

When you and your spouse have decided to get divorced, (or, if only one of you has made this decision,) it can be hard to imagine coming to an agreement about anything. Getting divorced can be incredibly emotional, and the prospect of cooperating with your soon-to-be ex might seem impossible.

In reality, though, it is almost always favorable to reach your own settlement agreement rather than letting a judge decide your fate. Remember, even if you take the case all the way to trial, a divorce case isn’t an opportunity for you to prove that your spouse deserves to be punished for their actions. If you go into the process with the desire to make them pay, you’ll likely spend a lot in legal fees without even receiving the outcome you desire.

Getting divorced can be confusing and completely overwhelming. In many cases, it’s a good idea to work with a lawyer. However, doing your own research can help you get a grasp of what the process will look like and what to expect at every step along the way.

Are you looking for more resources about divorce in Texas? Check out the rest of our articles at TexasDivorceLaws.org.

Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is a researcher and writer that aims to help make the complexities of the legal system understandable to the layperson. Believing that people can be empowered by understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, Sophia aims to offer accurate and well-researched information in straightforward and easy-to-digest legal articles.

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