What Happens When the Terms of a Marital Settlement Agreement Are Modified Later?
Even in a relatively amicable divorce that is resolved by a settlement agreement, the parties may decide after-the-fact to alter their previously agreed-upon terms. It is important to exercise caution when carrying out such modifications, however, as it can lead to legal complications down the line.
Appeals Court: Wife Does Not Need to Repay Husband Based on Terms of Original MSA
Consider this recent decision from the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal, Zubricky v. Zubricky. The spouses in this case signed a marital settlement agreement (MSA) the day before the couple formally filed divorce papers in court. Among its provisions, the MSA said the husband would pay the wife $550 a month for her car. The MSA was ultimately approved by a judge as part of the final order dissolving the marriage.
Several weeks into the divorce proceedings, the husband and wife withdrew approximately $40,000 from their bank account. This money was then used to purchase a new car for the wife. The parties then disagreed as to the meaning of these actions. The husband believed the $40,000 was “joint money” or marital property, and therefore the wife needed to reimburse him for half that amount as part of the final divorce order. For her part, the wife said the $40,000 was simply a modification of the earlier agreement via the MSA for the husband to give her money towards her car.
The trial judge sided with the husband’s interpretation and ordered the wife to repay the husband approximately $20,000. On appeal, the Fifth District agreed with the wife and reversed the trial judge’s decision on this issue.
As the appeals court explained, the MSA “required the Former Husband to pay $550 a month for the Former Wife’s vehicle.” But rather than lease a car with a monthly payment, as the parties originally anticipated, they later decided to buy a car outright. Indeed, after the $40,000 withdrawal, the husband testified he “stopped making the monthly car payment” as required by the original MSA. It was therefore “inconsistent” with the MSA for the trial judge to have required the wife to reimburse the husband.
Speak with a Boca Raton Divorce Lawyer Today
This particular case only dealt with a modification as to how to carry out the terms of the MSA. In other scenarios, the parties may wish to make more substantive modifications to a final divorce order after-the-fact. For example, a change in one party’s circumstances may justify a change to an existing child support or alimony order. When this happens, the parties cannot simply take it upon themselves to agree to a modification. They must obtain court approval.
If you need help with respect to any divorce or post-divorce legal matter, you need to speak with an experienced Boca Raton family attorney. Contact WiseLieberman, PLLC, today at 561-468-7788 to schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our team.