Florida Court Examines Duress With Regard to the Execution of Marital Agreements

People who decide to end their marriage have the right to determine their rights and obligations and to memorialize them in a marital settlement agreement. Any agreement entered into with regard to the division of property and debts, custody, and other family law issues must be entered into knowingly and willingly, however. As such, if a party alleges that they signed a marital agreement under duress, the court may set the agreement aside. A party making such assertions must comply with any procedural rules and file their objections in a timely manner, though, as explained in a recent Florida opinion. If you are considering seeking a divorce, it is important to understand your options, and you should confer with a Miami divorce attorney as soon as possible.

Case Background

It is reported that after twenty-eight years of marriage, the parties executed a marital settlement agreement (MSA), where the wife agreed to pay a substantial share of her income to the husband. The husband then filed for a simplified dissolution of marriage, resulting in a final judgment that ratified the MSA. Over a decade later, the wife ceased payments as outlined in the MSA, prompting the husband to seek enforcement of the judgment, along with an order of contempt and attorney fees.

Allegedly, in response, the wife sought to set aside the MSA and judgment, claiming lack of consideration, duress, unconscionability, and fraud. She invoked the analysis from a Florida prejudgment challenge case and the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure. The trial court, following an evidentiary hearing, found that the wife had signed the MSA under duress and fear induced by the husband, relying exclusively on the case cited by the wife without addressing the timeliness of the wife’s claims. The husband appealed.

Establishing Duress With Regard to the Execution of Marital Agreements

On appeal, the court reversed the trial court ruling. In doing so, the court emphasized that once an agreement is incorporated into a final judgment, any relief from the agreement must be sought under Rule 12.540(b). The court noted that the trial court erred by not applying this rule and by failing to address whether the wife’s claims were time-barred.

The court determined that while some of the wife’s arguments, such as those concerning fraudulent financial affidavits, could be raised at any time, others required evaluation within a reasonable period. Consequently, the court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings under the correct legal framework.

Additionally, the court instructed the trial court to consider the husband’s request for attorney fees, as governed by section 61.16(1) of the Florida Statutes, regardless of the outcome of the remanded proceedings.

Talk to a Dedicated Miami Attorney

Divorce not only has emotional and legal implications, it can have a significant financial impact as well. As such, it is critical for anyone weighing whether to end their marriage to talk to an attorney. The dedicated Miami divorce lawyers at the Law Offices of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. can assess your case and aid you in fighting for a fair result. Contact us at 800-596-0579 or use the online form to arrange a meeting.

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