There are many reasons a divorcing spouse might sign off on a marital settlement agreement when one or more terms are less favorable than what that spouse would receive if the agreement followed the Florida Statutes. Whatever the reasons, a person in such a situation should be extremely careful when signing such an agreement because, as long as the language in the document is clear, courts will follow the agreement’s terms, as one recent 2d District Court of Appeal case demonstrates.
The case arose from the divorce of a Florida couple. After mediation, the couple came to terms on a marital settlement agreement. In that document, the husband agreed to pay the wife $4,500 per month in alimony. The alimony paragraph stated that the amount was non-modifiable and payable for the life of the wife.
Barely a year later, the wife remarried. The husband sought a court order to terminate his alimony obligation and for the return of all the alimony he had paid since the wife’s remarriage. The trial court concluded that the agreement’s failure to state what happened if the wife were to remarry created an ambiguity regarding that term, and so the court held an evidentiary hearing. The husband testified that he believed his obligation would end if the wife remarried or began cohabitating.
The court eventually concluded that the parties had agreed to permanent alimony, which is generally governed by Section 61.08 of the Florida Statutes, and, since Section 61.08 allows for termination of an alimony obligation “upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the party receiving alimony,” the husband was entitled to termination and to get his money back on the payments he made after the wife’s remarriage.
The appeals court reversed that outcome. The court explained that divorcing spouses are free to agree to many terms that a trial court could not impose under the statutes. If two divorcing spouses desire that one spouse receive alimony, even after the occurrence of events that would cause termination under the statutes, they are allowed to do so. All they must do is express such an intent in clear language in their agreement.
That is what happened in the present case, the appeals court decided. It rejected the notion that, because the marital settlement agreement did not explicitly address what happened if the wife remarried, the alimony term was automatically ambiguous. The document stated that the wife’s alimony was non-modifiable and continued for her life. This language was clear and unambiguous that the only event that could terminate the alimony obligation was the wife’s death.
If the husband was unclear regarding what his obligations were under the agreement, or what events would trigger a termination, he would have been wise to have cleared up any uncertainty or confusion before he signed the marital settlement agreement. Since the terms in his agreement were abundantly clear, once he placed his signature on the document, he placed himself on the hook for the alimony payments for as long as his wife lived.
One way to help ensure that you are clear about what your marital settlement agreement requires, and certain that the agreement you sign is fair, is to work with an experienced Florida family law attorney and communicate openly, asking your attorney any questions you have. For advice and representation you can confidently rely upon, talk to the South Florida divorce attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our attorneys can help you make certain that you understand the agreement proposed to you, and that the agreement you ultimately accept is one you can live with.
Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Marital Settlement Agreements, Child Support, and College Students, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 17, 2014
Wife’s Cohabitation Not a Basis for Modification Due to Alimony Agreement’s Narrow Language, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 19, 2014