Florida Court Discusses the Interpretation of Prenuptial Agreements

While many people think of prenuptial agreements as instruments used for protecting assets in the event of a divorce, they can also help to determine how property will be disbursed if either party dies. As parties cannot opine on the intent of certain provisions from the grave, it is critical that prenuptial agreements are drafted in a clear and precise manner so that they can be properly interpreted by the courts. A Florida court recently discussed the interpretation of prenuptial agreements in a case in which the wife and the children of the deceased husband disagreed as to the meaning of numerous provisions. If you are engaged and you have substantial assets, it is smart to speak to a knowledgeable Florida marital agreement attorney regarding your options for protecting your wealth.

The Terms of the Agreement

Allegedly, the husband and wife lived together for several years before they decided to wed. The husband briefly mentioned prenuptial agreements before they were engaged but did not mention them again until the day of the wedding. At that point, he demanded that the wife find and complete a prenuptial agreement which she did. The parties then signed the agreement in front of a notary public.

It is reported that the husband died without a will four years after the couple married. The wife sought, among other things, to have the home describe in paragraph two of the agreement to be the husband’s homestead subject to her election of one-half interest. The husband’s children argued that the provision only applied during the husband’s life and that the wife waived any interest in the home.

Interpretation of Prenuptial Agreements

The court explained that prenuptial agreements are governed by the law of contracts, and as such, a court could give effect to the ordinary and plain meaning of its terms. Put another way, words should be given their natural meaning or the meaning generally understood in relation to the subject matter and situation, and reasonable interpretations are favored over unreasonable ones.

Further, when multiple provisions of a contract seem to conflict, it is a general principle of interpretation that a provision addressing a certain subject that is specific in its terms will prevail over one that is general in its terms. In the subject case, paragraph 2 of the prenuptial agreement described a specific property and stated that it was not affected by the agreement, which the court found unambiguously exempted it from the agreement. Thus, the court rejected the children’s argument that the provision was only effective when the husband was alive and ruled in favor of the wife.

Meet with a Seasoned Miami Attorney

Prenuptial agreements are useful tools, but it is critical that they define each party’s rights and obligations as clearly as possible to avoid disputes in the future. If you need assistance drafting or enforcing a prenuptial agreement, it is in your best interest to seek the advice of an attorney.  The seasoned Miami family law attorneys of the Law Offices of Sandy T. Fox, P.A., can advise you of your rights and help you to seek the best result available under the circumstances.  We have an office in Aventura, and we routinely represent people in family law matters in Miami. You can reach us through our form online or at 800-596-0579 to set up a conference.