Most couples draft a marital settlement agreement (MSA) to be included in their final divorce decree. This document outlines the terms of the divorce. It may also include something called a “morality clause.” This clause essentially prohibits both parents from exposing their children to what the parties believe could be inappropriate or dangerous situations.
In this article, an experienced Albany divorce lawyer will explain whether you’re allowed to include this type of language in your MSA. We will also briefly discuss the specific terms you can include and how you can enforce this sort of agreement.
What Is a Morality Clause in a Divorce Agreement?
A morals clause is a section in a marital settlement agreement that prohibits the parents from engaging in the following behavior while the children are in their custody:
- Having overnight guests of the opposite sex
- Exposing the children to any drug use or excessive alcohol use
- Introducing the children to a new significant other before a designated length of time has passed.
A morals clause can be even more detailed and adapted to reflect the parents’ rules of conduct where their children are involved.
Judges in Georgia Cannot Order You to Include a Morality Clause
The only way to include morality language in your marital settlement agreement is by telling your attorney to include it. The family court judge will not and cannot order you to include a morality clause.
Even if they believe it is in the best interests of the children, the judge cannot force you to write this language into your divorce agreement.
If you and your spouse want to include a morals clause in your final divorce agreement, let your attorney know. This is something they’ll have to negotiate with your spouse’s lawyer.
Once the terms are set, your Albany divorce lawyer will draft the morals clause and submit it to your spouse’s attorney for review. Once both spouses have agreed to the terms, your lawyer will submit the final agreement to the court for review and approval.
What If One of the Parties Is Violating the Terms of the Morality Clause?
A morals clause can be enforced just like other terms of your divorce. If you believe your ex has engaged in the behavior spelled out in the morals clause, you need to let your attorney know right away.
However, it may be hard to prove that the other parent violated the terms of your agreement. Your lawyer must gather evidence to support your claim.
They may rely on the following types of evidence:
- Proof that your ex was convicted of drug use or possession
- Copies of mail, such as a utility bill, showing that a member of the opposite sex is living with your ex-spouse
- Pictures or videos of your children with their other parent and their significant other
Even with this proof, your ex-spouse will likely argue that you are misconstruing things. You want to be sure the evidence is solid before you approach the judge.
Your Lawyer Can File a Motion with the Family Court
One way to address your ex-spouse’s violation of the morality clause is to file a motion with the family court. This motion must demand specific relief.
For example, your attorney can ask the judge to modify the parenting plan so that the children no longer have overnight visitation with the other parent.
You can also ask the judge to order your ex to ensure that the other person is not at their home during their scheduled time with the children.
You Can Also File a Petition with the Court to Hold Your Ex in Contempt
If you don’t believe your ex-spouse will comply with the terms of the agreement, you can ask the court to hold them in contempt of court. The judge normally won’t do this without strong evidence showing that the children are in danger.
As with most other things, the judge’s primary interest is the best interests of your children. If they feel your kids are in danger, they may grant your request.
If either parent is found to be in contempt of court, they may face the following penalties:
- Daily fines until they are in compliance with the morals clause
- Ordered to pay your attorney’s fees
- Placing visitation rights on hold until they can prove the issue has been resolved
It is worth noting that the daily fines assessed in these cases can be as high as $1,500 or even greater. In Minor v Minor, the Georgia Superior Court held that family judges are not limited to the $500 daily fines spelled out in OCGA §15-6-8(5).
Asking the court to hold your children’s other parent in contempt is a last resort. The best outcome is when your divorce attorney in Albany can negotiate a resolution with your ex-spouse’s attorney.
Discuss the Need for a Morals Clause With a Skilled Divorce Lawyer in Albany!
If you believe a morals clause is necessary to protect your children, you have the right to include it in your divorce agreement as long as your spouse agrees. You also have the right to enforce the agreement if your spouse violates the terms.