Marital Settlement Agreements

Most family law cases are resolved by settlement between the parties, and not at trial. This settlement, whether done at an informal conference, or at a formal mediation conference, results in an agreement signed by the parties, commonly called a Marital Settlement Agreement. These agreements are drafted with care to prevent any future litigation over what was really meant by the agreement. However, this is not always avoidable.

When these agreement are made, it is possible for both of parties of a case to think that one of the terms or words has a very simple, clear meaning. But for the parties to think that this very simple, clear meaning are two very different things. When this happens, both parties assume that the other is in violation of the agreement and of the court order enforcing the agreement. This almost always leads to litigation.

Generally, these agreements, which are contracts, must be interpreted by what is contained within them without any outside evidence being introduced. However, when two parties think that a term or word is clear and unambiguous, but give the same word different meanings, the disputed term is deemed ambiguous, and the court can look to other evidence to determine what the meaning of the disputed term really is.

This type of issue must be decided at a final hearing, or trial. It cannot be decided as a separate issue half-way through the case. This is because it is a factual dispute, and must be decide by the "trier of fact", which in family law cases, is the judge who presides over the final hearing. These seemingly small disagreement can end up resulting in significant post-judgment litigation expenses, and it is important to have an attorney who is knowledgeable in the area of family law contracts to assist you.

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