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What Is a Memorandum of Understanding?

April 26, 2024 | Family Law

A memorandum of understanding is often used in the mediation process when spouses are divorcing. In the realm of family law, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) is a non-binding agreement made between two parties to outline their intent in regard to legal matters of divorce.

MOUs are not formal contracts, rather they act as blueprints for future agreements by outlining agreed-upon terms and conditions that both pirates aim to follow.

Key Elements of a Memorandum of Understanding

  • Intent and understanding: the purpose of the MOU is to capture the mutual objectives of the parties involved and to lay the groundwork for future negotiations.
  • Terms and conditions: though it is not legally enforceable, the MOU lays out the terms and conditions agreed upon by the involved parties. This can include aspects like child custody in Boulder, child support, asset division, spousal support, and more.
  • Flexibility: because the MOU is not legally binding, the involved parties have the ability to modify the agreements as the situation evolves.
  • Clarity: clear and concise language should be used in an MOU to avoid the misinterpretation of the intentions of the involved parties.
  • Foundation for formal agreements: MOUs tend to serve as precursors to more comprehensive, formal agreements like a separation agreement or a divorce decree. The MOU provides a foundation for the formal agreement to be built upon, streamlining the process.

What Is The Difference Between A Memorandum of Understanding And A Separation Agreement?

While both a Memorandum of Understanding and a separation agreement address important family law matters in the process of divorce, there are distinct differences between the two documents.

Legal Enforceability

  • MOU– outlines the intentions of the involved parties, it is non-binding and lacks legal enforceability.
  • Separation Agreement– these are legally binding agreements that outline the rights and obligations of each party in a divorce. Separation agreements can be submitted to a court for approval and enforcement.


  • MOU– these agreements are less formal and are usually drafted in the initial stages of negotiations to serve as a preliminary understanding between the involved parties.
  • Separation Agreement– this is a comprehensive legal document that covers various aspects of the separation, including asset division, child custody, visitation rights, spousal support, and more. It must be carefully drafted with all legal implications taken into consideration.

Stage of Negotiations

  • MOU– these tend to be drafted early on in the negotiation process, providing a framework for further discussions and formal agreements.
  • Separation Agreement– this agreement is finalized after thorough negotiations between the involved parties, and serves as a conclusive agreement outlining the terms of the divorce or separation.

Legal Standing

  • MOU– while not legally binding, it can carry some persuasive weight in subsequent legal proceedings as the court may consider the intentions expressed in an MOU when evaluating disputes.
  • Separation Agreement– this agreement is legally binding and provides a clear roadmap for the rights and responsibilities of each party post-separation. A separation agreement can be enforced through legal channels if either party violates it.

Both MOU and separation agreements can play vital roles in the realm of family law. It is important to note that they differ in terms of legal enforceability, formality, stage of negotiations, and legal standing.

A skilled Boulder family law attorney can help you navigate the process and understand the differences between these two documents.

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