Final Decrees in Virginia: to Merge or not to Merge?

When parties to a divorce are able to come to a resolution regarding their assets, debts, property, and children, lawyers will often draft a Property Settlement Agreement for each party to sign. The Property Settlement Agreement works to bind the parties in a legal contract consisting of terms each party has agreed to, i.e.,  how much to pay in child support, who gets the new Volvo, and how the parties are going to pay off credit card debts, etc.

When the time comes for the parties to finalize their divorce with a final decree for the Judge to enter, the language an attorney will often use in the final decree is that the parties ask for the Court to “ratify, affirm, and incorporate, but not merge” the Property Settlement Agreement into the final decree of divorce. Invariably the client then asks his or her attorney, “What does that mean?”

Most simply put, it means that if parties merge their Property Settlement Agreement into the final decree, if the parties have future litigation arising out of the a future court somewhere down the road can go back and modify the terms of the parties’ Property Settlement Agreement if there exists a basis in the law for doing so. In other words, that Agreement that the parties made between themselves can be changed by a third party. Therefore, it is beneficial to most couples to not merge their Property Settlement Agreement so that the parties’ original intent and Agreement is preserved.

If you have questions regarding your final decree of divorce, or Property Settlement Agreement, please contact Winlsow & McCurry PLLC for assistance at 804-423-1382 or