Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Divorce
Many Florida marital settlement agreements contain a clause that states each party will pay his or her own attorneys’ fees and costs. How far does this attorneys’ fee waiver go? One recent appellate case explores whether the waiver covers future litigation such as modification or enforcement proceedings.
In Laux v. Laux, 4D18-1172 (Fla. 4th DCA March 6, 2019), the parties resolved their dissolution of marriage by entering a settlement agreement that contained the following clause: “Each party shall be responsible for their respective attorney's fees, if any are incurred.” Subsequently, the former wife was forced to file a motion for enforcement of the agreement based on the former husband’s failure to provide documents related to his pension. The former wife’s motion was granted, but the court denied her request for fees, determining the clause in their marital settlement agreement meant she waived all future fees.
The former wife appealed arguing Florida case law provides that a waiver of attorneys’ fees and costs under these circumstances requires the agreement to contain specific language to that effect. The appellate court started with the proposition that “Generally, a trial court's ruling on a motion for attorney's fees is reviewed for abuse of discretion. However, because entitlement to attorney's fees in this case depends on the interpretation of a contract, the court's ruling is reviewed de novo.”
The court went on to decide in favor of the former wife, holding “In the present case, the attorney's fees provision in the MSA merely provides that "[e]ach party shall be responsible for their respective attorney's fees, if any are incurred." The provision does not address, let alone address with specificity, the issue of attorney's fees in future enforcement proceedings. Accordingly, as there is no specific language in the MSA reflecting an intent by either party to waive the right to seek attorney's fees in future enforcement proceedings, the trial court erred in denying Former Wife's request for fees based on the MSA.”
Before you sign your Florida marital settlement agreement, contact a Miami divorce lawyer to make sure it captures your intent. A consultation can help you understand what your agreement will and will not do for you in the future.