Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Child Custody
The way settlement agreements are worded is a very important part of Florida family law cases. If there is ambiguity in a settlement agreement, this can cause uncertainty, confusion and conflict in enforcement of the terms of an agreement. Take for example the case Wohlberg v. Conner, 234 So.3d 841 (Fla. 4th DCA 2018) in which the parties disagreed regarding the meaning of a part of their parenting plan which controlled timesharing.
The parties entered a Florida parenting plan which granted the mother 70% timesharing and the father 30%. The plan further contained the following statement: “If the [father] continuously and timely exercises timesharing with the minor child for a period of 6 consecutive months, the parties shall exercise equal timesharing.” About three months after the entry of this parenting plan, the mother filed a motion seeking to have the court find the father had not satisfied the condition to exercise his 30% timesharing in the three months since the entry of the final judgment. On the father’s request, the court dismissed this motion as premature since 6 months had no yet passed, and his motion did not argue that the 6 month requirement did not apply only to the 6 months immediately following the entry of the final judgment.
Over a year later, the father filed a motion to enforce the equal timesharing provision, arguing that he had timely and continuously exercised his 30% timesharing for a period of 6 consecutive months. The mother argued that the provision regarding equal timesharing was ambiguous because it did not specify whether the 6 months was limited to the months immediately following the execution of the parenting plan or any 6 month period. The trial court disagreed with the mother, holding there was no ambiguity in the parenting plan, and that the father was entitled to begin equal timesharing.
The mother appealed arguing to the appellate court that since there was an ambiguity as to when the 6 month period applied in the final judgment, the trial court should have taken extrinsic evidence of the parties’ intent regarding this provision. The appellate court agreed with the mother, holding the provision of the parenting plan in question was not clear, and therefore a hearing was necessary as to the intent behind the provision. The trial court was instructed to interpret the parenting plan in accordance with the child’s best interests at the time of the court’s determination.
Sometimes parties have the best intentions in drafting their settlement agreement, but those intentions are not reflected in the wording used in the agreement. If you need help interpreting and/or enforcing a provision of your Florida marital settlement agreement, contact a Miami divorce attorney to help you. Through a consultation, you can review with the attorney the wording of your agreement and get advice on how to proceed.