When a marriage breaks down and you, as one of the spouses, must confront divorce, there are several decisions you’ll need to make. One of those is whether to litigate everything and let the judge decide, or whether to establish a marital settlement agreement with your spouse. If you decide to create a settlement agreement, be forewarned that these agreements are generally as binding and enforceable as any other legal contract. In other words, you should make sure that you understand exactly what the terms of your settlement agreement dictate before you sign, and be sure that the agreement that appears on paper is the one to which you thought you were assenting. To make sure the settlement agreement you sign is the agreement you need, be sure you have a skilled New York family law attorney on your side.
One of the ways that disputes can arise around marital settlement agreements is when there are things that are left unwritten. When a term is not included in the document, uncertainty can enter in and allow for disagreement. Take, for example, the settlement agreement case of E.B. and A.B. The Rochester-area couple began divorce proceedings in 2004. During that litigation, the couple created a marital settlement agreement. The agreement said that the wife would receive “rehabilitative maintenance” starting on December 1, 2007 and ending on November 30, 2020. The agreement did not state that the maintenance would continue until 2020 regardless of other events, but it also did not list any events that would trigger an early termination of the maintenance obligation, either.
The wife married a new spouse in late 2015. Four months later, the husband sent the wife a letter informing her that, because she was remarried, he intended to cease making any more maintenance payments. In response, the wife took the husband to court to recover a money judgment for the remaining unpaid maintenance payments.