The Importance of Negotiating a Favorable Florida Marital Settlement Agreement

Divorces can often be stressful times for the spouses involved. The pain and stress, in some circumstances, may motivate some divorcing spouses to try to achieve as swift a resolution to the case as possible. While that can be an understandable motivation, it is important not to agree to just any marital settlement agreement simply to resolve your dispute. As a recent Palm Beach County case demonstrates, the terms of your marital settlement agreement can have long-lasting effects for you, even years after your divorce has been finalized.

This case involved a couple whose final divorce judgment incorporated a marital settlement agreement that the spouses worked out. The agreement stated that the husband would pay the wife $9,000 per month in alimony.

Some time after the divorce, the wife made some changes in her lifestyle. She sold the marital home, moved out of Florida, and bought a smaller place. These changes had the net effect of cutting her monthly expenses by more than half. After she made these changes, the husband went back to court, arguing that the changes entitled him to a modification in alimony. The trial court agreed and dropped the alimony obligation from $9,000 monthly to $7,800 monthly.

Both spouses appealed. The husband argued that the modification didn’t reduce the alimony obligation enough. The wife argued that the trial court should have refused to modify alimony at all.

The appeals court ruling provides some useful information on a couple of areas related to alimony modification. In any alimony modification situation, the spouse seeking modification must prove to the court that a qualifying “change in circumstances” has taken place, or otherwise the trial court doesn’t have the authority to alter the previous alimony order at all.

In this case, the wife argued that her voluntary decision to reduce her expenses shouldn’t qualify as an event that opened the door to an alimony modification case. The court rejected the wife’s argument. There are a few situations in which a spouse’s voluntary actions can trigger a modification within the “totality of the circumstances.” One of these is if the paying spouse retires, and that retirement causes a reduction in income, while another is if the receiving spouse significantly reduces her expenses.

Another important aspect of this ruling related to the husband’s argument that the trial court improperly failed to impute any income to the wife. The appeals court rejected this argument, citing the settlement agreement as a primary basis for this. The court pointed out that the wife had never worked outside the home during the marriage and that the settlement agreement included no provisions that either explicitly or implicitly imposed upon her an obligation to begin working outside the home once the couple was divorced. By declining to impute any income to the wife, the trial judge was simply “giving effect” to the terms of the settlement agreement. The appeals court went on to give a helpful hint to future divorcing spouses, stating that if “the parties intended to impute income to the former spouse for purposes of support, they should have put a provision in the” agreement.

There is a wide array of terms that can go into a marital settlement agreement. Everything you do (or don’t) put into the agreement can have substantial and long-lasting effects. That’s why it is so important to have experienced and knowledgeable counsel representing you when you consider signing a marital settlement agreement…and at every step of the divorce process. The dedicated South Florida alimony attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have spent many years helping their clients pursue favorable outcomes to their family law disputes. To find out how we can help you, contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Imputing Income to Your Ex-Spouse in Your Florida Alimony Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb. 10, 2016

When the Florida Appellate Courts Won’t Hear Your Family Law Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Aug. 5, 2015