Both in this blog and elsewhere, you may read about the importance of having a powerful South Florida family law attorney by your side “every step of the way.” That’s definitely true if you are someone who is seeking to create a premarital (a/k/a prenuptial) agreement. You need strong legal representation when you negotiate your agreement, when you execute the document and, potentially, when it comes time to enforce that agreement.
That last one – enforcement — is just as important as the others, because it is far from impossible to encounter a spouse who decides they don’t want to “play by the rules” created by that agreement when it comes time to do so.
This was the case for L.B., an ex-wife from the Orlando area. Before she married H.H., the pair created and signed a prenuptial agreement. That contract stated that, if the couple divorced, the husband was required to support the wife, not just during his lifetime, but after his death.
Specifically, the agreement said that if the wife survived the husband post-divorce, the husband “shall provide, in his estate planning documents or otherwise, for [the wife] to continue to receive the monthly payment in the same amount she was receiving as of [the husband’s] death… as long as she shall live.”
Just as the agreement required, the husband set up a trust prior to his death and placed funds in it to cover payments to L.B. However, shortly before his death, the husband transferred those funds out of the trust, leaving it devoid of assets with which to pay L.B.
So, in 2017, when the husband passed away, the wife’s payments stopped. She sued for enforcement of the agreement. Her legal team presented a straightforward argument: she and the husband were divorced, and she had survived the husband. Therefore, he was required to provide for her in his estate planning documents, and leaving her a “broke” trust did not satisfy that obligation.
The husband’s estate advanced what the appeals court called a “bold” argument. The estate contended that the husband met his obligation under the prenuptial agreement simply by creating the trust. Essentially, they argued that the husband had “provided” for the wife simply by creating the trust structure itself. Funding it was a separate obligation not covered by the prenuptial agreement, according to the estate.
Using the ‘common understanding’ of terms to interpret your prenup
The appeals court did not buy that bold argument, concluding that the estate’s interpretation “strains the contractual language well beyond the bounds of common understanding.”
When courts are called upon to interpret contracts, and that includes prenuptial agreements, they are required to interpret the document using the “common understanding” of the language contained inside. According to the court, a reasonable person in L.B.’s shoes would have expected that the “provide for” language meant providing an estate vehicle that could — and would — provide her with monthly payments, not providing some penniless estate-planning shell with no wealth to distribute to meet the husband’s obligation in the prenuptial agreement.
As a result, the wife ultimately prevailed in her effort for enforcement of her prenuptial agreement.
Sometimes, your legal issues connected to your prenuptial agreement may not be over, even after the document is “signed, sealed and delivered.” Additional legal action to enforce the rights you obtained in that contract may be necessary. Whatever phase of the prenuptial agreement process you’re in, count on the experienced South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. to protect you. Our attorneys have many years of helping Florida spouses get the prenuptial agreements they need, and then defend those rights once the document’s signed. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation today.