Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Divorce
Words matter in Florida marital settlement agreements because the court must enforce the agreement exactly as written. Therefore, it is important that you say what you mean, and mean what you say in your contract.
Sometimes when parties are negotiating settlement, they intend to include a provision in the agreement but the words in the contract do not necessarily convey that intent. For example, if the parties intend to alternate the tax dependency exemption for their children each year only if the parent responsible for paying child support is current on his or her child support obligation as of the time of claiming, this must be explicitly stated in the agreement. Otherwise, if the agreement only says the parties will alternate the exemption, and a parent is behind on support payments, that parent would be entitled to claim the exemption despite being delinquent on support payments.
We see this concept in action in the case Sealy v. Sealy, 4D17-1631 (Fla. 4th DCA 2018). The former wife appealed an order issued by the trial court directing the parties to sell the marital home and equally split the proceeds. The parties' marital settlement agreement stated that should the former wife fail to refinance the mortgage on the marital home within six months of the dissolution of marriage, the former husband had the right "to have the house sold or to refinance the house in his own name and buy the wife out of the home for 50% of the equity." The clear terms of the agreement did not provide for an equal split of equity in the event of a sale of the house.
Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the trial court's ruling on the equity split in the event of sale, directing the trial court to hold a hearing to determine the parties' entitlement to the sale proceeds under the parameters of the marital settlement agreement. Having a lawyer review your marital settlement agreement to determine that the appropriate wording is included to capture your intent may save you attorneys' fees and headache down the line. Schedule a consultation to go over your best options.