Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals has ruled that attorney’s fees may be awarded pursuant to Section 61.16(1) of the Florida Statutes in a marital property settlement agreement enforcement action. In De Campos v. Ferrara, a former married couple dissolved their marriage in 1991. As part of the dissolution action, the parties entered into a property settlement agreement that required the former wife to pay her ex-husband one-half of the sale proceeds for a business the couple owned during their marriage. Although the business was not immediately sold, the trial court retained jurisdiction to enforce the parties’ settlement agreement.
In 2008, the wife sold the business, reportedly without telling the husband. He subsequently sought relief from the trial court that included a temporary injunction and an order compelling payment of his half of the sale proceeds. Although the wife argued that she previously disposed of the business by incorporating it into a new business and paying her former husband $48,000, the trial court disagreed. Instead, she was ordered to pay her former spouse one-half of the proceeds from the 2008 sale.
In 2009, the former husband filed a petition with the trial court for an award of attorney’s fees and other costs. The trial court denied his petition based on Flanders v. Flanders, stating that the action was “an equitable declaratory proceeding to construe and enforce the parties’ Property Settlement Agreement.” According to the trial court, Section 61.16(1) of the Florida Statutes did not apply to the parties’ case and the husband was not entitled to attorney’s fees since the property settlement agreement was silent on the matter.
On appeal, the Third District reversed the trial court by stating the matter was simply an enforcement action for a final judgment previously entered by the trial court. According to the Appeals Court, there was no ambiguity regarding whether the husband was entitled to proceeds from the sale of the business. Additionally, his former wife did not contest his rights. Instead, she merely contested whether her obligations under the property settlement agreement were previously satisfied. The Appellate Court stated Flanders did not apply to the case at hand because the proceeding was not a declaratory action. According to the Third District, Section 61.16(1) applied to the parties’ case because the court was merely being asked to enforce a marital property settlement agreement in a divorce matter filed pursuant to Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes.
The Appeals Court also found the husband may be entitled to attorney’s fees because neither party expressly waived their statutory right to such an award in the property settlement agreement. Additionally, there was no implied waiver because the agreement failed to contain any language regarding an award of attorney’s fees. Since Section 61.16(1) applied to the case and governed any award of attorney’s fees, Florida’s Third District reversed and remanded the matter to the trial court.
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