Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Alimony

Time and time again, we see cases in which parties’ marital settlement agreements are not fully clear as to intent. A paragraph about child support, for example, may say something, but when read years later, can cause different interpretations. These different interpretations usually lead to expensive post-judgment litigation as was the case in Quillen v. Quillen, 247 So.3d 40 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018).

In this case, the parties’ marital settlement agreement stated the former husband would pay $500 per month in alimony to the former wife while the former wife would pay $500 per month to the former husband in child support. Thus, each party’s support obligation was offset by the other so that neither paid anything to the other, and another provision in the agreement stated this. Once the parties’ youngest child turned 18 and support was no longer payable, the former wife alleged the former husband continued to owe alimony. The former husband countered that the alimony obligation ceased when the child support obligation ceased. The trial court agreed with the former husband and dismissed the former wife’s petition for modification and motion for contempt.

On appeal, the appellate court held there was a latent ambiguity as to the duration of the alimony. The appellate court stated, “The present agreement illustrates just such ‘an insufficiency in the contract or a failure to specify the rights or duties of the parties in certain situations.’ Paragraphs 4 and 7 contain no compass to guide the parties once the support and alimony offsets were no longer operative. Moreover, the fact that the parties ‘read the same document and came to opposite, but equally reasonable conclusions, confirms the document's latent ambiguity.’ Consequently, we hold that the trial court erred when it found that the alimony obligations of the CFJ were unambiguous. Under the circumstances, parol evidence would be admissible ‘to explain, clarify or elucidate the ambiguous term[s].’” The trial court was directed to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the intent of the parties with relation to the duration of alimony.

Ambiguous contract terms can cause headaches down the road for parties who want finality in their case. Hire a Miami family law attorney before, during and after you take on your Miami divorce case to give yourself a good shot at getting things right the first time so that hopefully you can avoid more time and money spent down the line.