The law gives parties wide latitude in how they structure the terms of their contractual agreements. The same is generally true when it comes to spouses and the terms of their prenuptial agreements. For example, one Florida couple entered into a prenuptial agreement that waived all rights to future alimony claims but permitted the wife to receive a “salary” for two years after a divorce. According to a recent Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling, that agreement was valid and meant that the courts could not order an award of alimony and couldn’t use contempt powers if the husband didn’t pay the salary.
In this case, the couple was locked in a long-running dispute over the issue of alimony. The trial court had ordered an award of alimony in favor of the wife. The husband had argued that he could not be obliged to pay alimony. Generally, awards of alimony are allowable and upheld by the courts in many situations, but, in this case, the Court of Appeal sided with the husband and reversed the alimony award in its entirety.
So what made this case unique and allowed the husband to prevail? It was the existence of a prenuptial agreement between the spouses. The law allows parties to choose to waive various rights as part of the terms of a contractual agreement. That’s essentially what takes place in a “prenup” — the spouses agree to give up, in a future divorce action, the right to pursue certain claims, whether they are related to division of property, alimony, or another basis. Generally speaking, as long as the prenup wasn’t a result of one spouse’s improper use of fraud, duress, or undue influence, the agreement is enforceable under the law.
With this couple, the agreement had a term that said that both spouses waived their right to pursue claims for alimony. The agreement did, however, state that the husband agreed, upon an entry of an order of divorce, to pay (either directly or through one of his companies) to the wife a gross salary of $6,000 per month for 24 months.
Contrary to what the trial court decided, this promise to pay the wife a salary for two years was not a variation of durational alimony. The agreement’s specific wording identifying the payments as “salary” was done for a specific reason, according to the appeals court. Non-payment of alimony is enforced through the court system’s contempt powers. Non-payment of a contractually agreed-upon salary is enforced through civil litigation for breach of contract. Essentially, by agreeing to the terms of this prenuptial agreement as written, the spouses were agreeing to litigate any disputes over non-payment of the salary through a civil litigation action for breach of contract rather than through a family law case for contempt of court.
This term within the prenuptial agreement was legally permissible and enforceable. As a result, that meant that the courts lacked the authority to order the husband to pay alimony to the wife.
Whether your family law issues relate to a prenuptial agreement, an award of alimony, or some other issue, you need experienced counsel on your side protecting your interests. The experienced South Florida alimony attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have been helping clients for many years with a wide array of family law issues. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
The Importance of Negotiating a Favorable Florida Marital Settlement Agreement, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 12, 2017
Lump-Sum Alimony in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 5, 2017