Florida Court Discusses Interpretation of Marital Settlement Agreements

Many divorcing couples in Florida develop marital settlement agreements to determine their rights and obligations. While the courts will generally enforce the agreement as to the ex-spouses, it is unlikely that a third party has any right to pursue claims under the agreement. This was illustrated in a recent Florida divorce action in which the court ruled that a man was not obligated to pay a debt owed to his ex-mother-in-law pursuant to the terms of his marital settlement agreement. If you have questions about how a divorce could impact your finances, it is smart to speak to a Miami divorce attorney as soon as possible.

Factual and Procedural Background

It is alleged that a woman sued her former son-in-law for breach of contract, claiming she was an intended third-party beneficiary of a marital settlement agreement (MSA) between him and her daughter. The woman and her mother had loaned money to the defendant during his marriage. Following the divorce, the MSA was created to settle the couple’s assets and liabilities. The agreement listed debts, including the loans from the plaintiff and her mother that the defendant was supposed to pay.

It is reported that approximately twenty-one months later, the plaintiff sued the defendant for not paying the amounts specified. The defendant sought summary judgment, asserting that the MSA did not intend to benefit the plaintiff or her mother. The trial court ruled in favor of the defendant, determining that the MSA’s purpose was to divide the couple’s assets and liabilities without expressing a clear intent to benefit the plaintiff or her mother. The plaintiff appealed.

Interpretation of Marital Settlement Agreements

On appeal, the court focused on whether the contracting parties intended to primarily and directly benefit the plaintiff as a third-party beneficiary. Both parties agreed that the MSA was unambiguous but disagreed on its interpretation. The plaintiff argued that the inclusion of her and her mother’s names and the specified amounts meant they were intended beneficiaries.

However, the court found that the MSA’s primary purpose was to settle what the divorcing couple owed to each other. The identification of creditors, including the plaintiff and her mother, was meant to allocate responsibility for debts, not to confer third-party beneficiary status. The court emphasized that a clear intent to benefit a third party must be explicitly expressed, which was not the case here.

Furthermore, the court highlighted that assuming creditors named in such agreements are intended beneficiaries could discourage amicable settlements and promote further litigation. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgment, concluding that the MSA did not express an intent to benefit the plaintiff or her mother directly.

Consult with an Experienced Miami Lawyer

Ending a marriage can significantly affect one’s financial well-being. If you have concerns regarding the economic consequences of divorce, it is wise to consult with a legal professional. The committed Miami divorce lawyers at the Law Offices of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. will educate you on your choices and assist you in pursuing a fair resolution. Contact us at 800-596-0579 or fill out the online form to schedule a meeting.

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