Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Divorce
You signed your marital settlement agreement and are divorced thinking the worst is behind you. In major ways, you are right, the worst may be behind you, but for some couples who continue to have disagreements after the ink is dry on their final judgment, litigation can continue for years as we see in the recent appellate case Kenney v. Goff, 4D17-2094 (Fla. 4th DCA 2018).
The parties were divorced in 2004, but apparently were involved in post-judgment litigation since that time. The parties entered a marital settlement agreement in which the former husband agreed to pay lump sum alimony to the former wife. The agreement stated the alimony was non-modifiable, survived the former husband’s death and was not taxable to the former wife.
After the former husband failed to make payment of the alimony, litigation ensued, and the former husband filed a motion to clarify the nature of the alimony payments. He urged the court to classify the alimony as equitable distribution rather than spousal support, and after an evidentiary hearing, the court agreed with the former husband and reclassified the payments as property distribution, effectively making former wife’s claim for alimony arrears unenforceable.
Citing the established law that unambiguous terms of an agreement must be followed by the court, the appellate court sided with the former wife. The court looks to the substance of the terms of the agreement rather than the labels assigned by the parties. The court held, “In sum, because the MSA and the record evidence reflect that the lump sum rehabilitative alimony was independent of the equitable distribution scheme and was not in exchange for any valuable property rights, the lump sum rehabilitative alimony constituted spousal support.”
Enforcement of property division and of spousal support vary in terms of the methods used to coerce payment. If you need help enforcing the terms of your Florida marital settlement agreement, contact a Miami divorce lawyer to help you.