The Statutes of Limitations and Your Florida Family Law Case: Don’t Let Time Run Out on You

Here in Florida, as in every state, the time that you have for pursuing your rights in a civil court action is limited. These deadlines are called statutes of limitations or limitations periods. If you wait too long to file your lawsuit, the other side can seek a dismissal of your action, and can get it thrown out no matter how strong your factual evidence is. So, if your ex-spouse isn’t doing what he/she promised under the terms of your marital settlement agreement, then it’s important to know just how long you have to act, and make sure you’re not waiting too long. For this and other essential pieces of legal knowledge, rely on advice from an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

While all kinds of legal actions where you’re seeking enforcement of your marital settlement agreement have a limitations period, not all of those periods are the same length of time, as a recent case from southwest Florida illustrates.

In that case, the spouses signed a marital settlement agreement in March 1997. The agreement called for the husband to pay the wife the sum of $487,000, either as one lump sum due Jan. 1, 2001, or as five installment payments (plus interest) due on Dec. 31, 2001 and each Dec. 31 thereafter.

That agreement was incorporated into the couple’s divorce judgment, which the judge entered on April 25, 1997. When a marital settlement agreement is “incorporated” into a divorce judgment, that means that its terms carry the same force as if the judge wrote them in a court order. In that situation, a failure to perform can potentially carry the risk of being found in contempt of court.

Recognizing what the correct deadline was

This husband didn’t pay the wife in 2001… or 2002… or 2003… or at any time. In 2017, he still hadn’t paid a cent, and, on April 24, 2017, the wife filed a court action to enforce the divorce judgment. The husband argued that the wife had waited too long. In his motion for dismissal, the husband pointed to Section 95.11(2)(b) of the Florida Statutes, a law that says you have only five years to seek enforcement of a written agreement. The trial judge, in rejecting the husband’s motion, concluded that a different statute – Section 95.11(1) – was the correct statute of limitations. That statute says that a person has 20 years to seek enforcement of “an action on a judgment or decree of a court of record in this state.” Because the wife filed 19 years and 364 days after the entry of the judgment, it was not too late, according to the trial court.

The appeals court agreed. Although the court had never explicitly said so before, it did say in this case that the limitations period for actions like this wife’s was 20 years. Specifically, the appeals court declared that, when two divorcing spouses’ marital settlement agreement is incorporated into their final divorce judgment and “the court entering the judgment retains jurisdiction to enforce it, enforcement of the agreement through the judgment is generally subject to section 95.11(1)’s twenty-year statute of limitations.”

Based on that, the appeals court upheld the trial judge’s decision, which had concluded that, factoring interest and all other factors, the wife was entitled to nearly $1 million in arrearages from the husband.

What does this mean for you? You can take away that you only have a limited time to act to protect your right and interests, even in a family law case. What that period of time is often requires an in-depth understanding of the law. If your spouse isn’t doing what he/she promised in your marital settlement agreement, don’t wait. Take action right away and reach out to the knowledgeable South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. for the helpful advice and powerful advocacy your case needs. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.