As you prepare to create a marital settlement agreement in Florida, there are several things you should be certain you do. One is to negotiate carefully and diligently to include all of the terms you need and exclude everything that you need left out. After that, you need to be sure that the written document presented for your signature accurately reflects everything for which you negotiated. This is vital because, if there is a dispute later, the court will rely heavily on what is in “black and white” in the written marital settlement agreement. An experienced South Florida divorce attorney can provide you with invaluable representation throughout this process, including both the negotiation and drafting of your marital settlement agreement.
Jay and Jane were a couple in Broward County whose marital settlement agreement was on center stage in their Court of Appeal case. The spouses had created a marital settlement agreement in the fall of 2015 and finalized their divorce shortly thereafter. Just a few weeks later, the husband passed away.
The couple had agreed in their MSA that, as a “contingency arrangement for the equalizer payment,” the husband would pay the wife 120 monthly payments of $5,000 each starting in November 2015 (for a total of $600,000.) The husband’s estate, though, paid Jane $400,000 up front and then made 28 monthly payments of $5,000, after which the payments stopped.
That, of course, adds up to $540,000, not $600,000. The wife went back to court, seeking an order compelling payment of the remaining $60,000. The estate argued that the obligation to the wife had been fulfilled. The estate’s main argument was that, because the wife received a $400,000 lump sum up front, instead of receiving that amount across an 80-month period from March 2018 to October 2024, the wife had received an added benefit. The estate’s accountant testified at the hearing that the $400,000 lump sum would have grown by $57,205 at the end of 80 months, meaning that the early payment had benefitted the wife by nearly that $60,000 figure.
If you want it, be sure it is on paper in your marital settlement agreement
The Court of Appeal sided with the wife. The outcome of this case rested upon a very basic, though sometimes overlooked, concept of contract law, which includes the law of marital settlement agreements. That notion is this: if you want the benefit of something as part of your agreement, be sure that this “something” is included in “black and white” in your agreement.
In Jane’s case, her agreement with her husband did not include any provision that said that, if the husband paid a portion of the equalizing debt early, he was entitled to a reduction in his obligation based on the “growth” of that money’s value over the time period between the date of payment and the due date. If he wanted to receive such a benefit, he should have negotiated for it and included it in the agreement. As the appeals court stated, an agreement’s “provisions should be determined from the words of the entire contract. The actual language used in the contract is the best evidence of the intent of the parties, and the plain meaning of that language controls.”
The actual language of couple’s agreement contained no allowance permitting a discount for early payment, so the wife remained owed the last $60,000.
Getting the best possible distribution of assets in a marital settlement agreement is something that requires well-honed negotiation skill as well as in-depth knowledge regarding the proper legal drafting of these types of documents. For that kind of skill and knowledge (and more,) count on the experienced South Florida divorce attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our team is equipped and ready to advocate for your rights both at the negotiating table and in the courtroom. Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.