A recent Fourth District Court of Appeal’s case dealt with the issue of interpreting a settlement agreement. In Wriden v. Wriden, the parties reached a marital settlement agreement during their divorce. One provision of the agreement stated that the Former Husband was to share equally in the rent of the Former Wife’s residence located at a specific address. The Former Husband failed to pay the rent and the Former Wife filed a motion for contempt. It was learned that the Former Wife lived for a period of time at the location mentioned in the settlement agreement. She also moved to another location that was not listed in the settlement agreement. She requested that the Former Husband reimburse her for rent paid at both locations. The trial court granted her request and order the Former Husband to reimburse her for rent paid at both locations. The Former Husband appealed and argued that he was only contractually obligated to pay rent at the location specifically listed in the settlement agreement.
The appellate court agreed with the Former Husband’s argument. The appellate court stated, “As with any contract, where the terms of a marital settlement agreement are clear and unambiguous, the parties' intent must be gleaned from the four corners of the document. It is only when a term in a marital settlement agreement is ambiguous or unclear that the trial court may consider extrinsic evidence as well as the parties' interpretation of the contract to explain or clarify the language.” The appellate court found that the marital settlement agreement was clear and unambiguous and order that the amount should be reduced to only reflect the amount the Former Husband failed to pay at the location specifically listed in the settlement agreement.
The construction of a marital settlement agreement can be complex and specialized. If you are contemplating entering into a settlement agreement with your spouse, contact your expert family law attorney today for a consultation.