California family law is quite complex. For those who are not familiar with the workings of California law, it may be very difficult to differentiate between the terms “premarital agreement,” “marital agreement,” and “marital settlement agreement.”
A premarital agreement is a contract that is executed between two prospective spouses. The premarital agreement, or “prenup,” is entered into in anticipation of marriage with the idea that it will become effective upon the marriage of the two prospective spouses. Premarital agreements often address issues of the parties’ present and future property rights. Premarital agreements must comply with certain formalities to be enforceable.
A marital agreement, or postnuptial agreement, is a contract that is executed by spouses during marriage. This type of contract affects the rights and obligations incident to an ongoing marriage, both during life and after death. Post-nuptial contracts can be broad in scope, laying out in comprehensive detail the parties’ rights and duties towards each other and the characterization of property. This category also includes “transmutation” agreements, which are contracts changing the property status of a specific asset from its current form to another form (e.g. separate property to community property). Like a prenuptial agreement, marital agreements must comply with certain formalities in order to be enforceable. Additionally, spouses entering into postnuptial agreements must comply with their fiduciary obligations and act with the “highest good faith and fair dealing” towards one another.
A marital settlement agreement (MSA) is executed as part of a dissolution of marriage or legal separation. The MSA typically addresses the parties’ ownership of marital property and other rights and obligations in relation to divorce or separation. Usually, an MSA is incorporated into a judgment of dissolution, and the rights and obligations of the ex-spouses are governed by the terms of the final judgment.
Note that the same rules governing these agreements between spouses also generally apply to domestic partnerships. For more information about prenuptial agreements, marital agreements, or marital settlement agreements, please contact us.
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