With any marital settlement agreement, it is essential to understand the details of each provision in the agreement with specificity. In one recent case, this concept was on full display when a former wife was unable to persuade the Appellate Division that her daughter’s intermittent college attendance was enough to trigger a provision in the couple’s stipulation of settlement that would have delayed the sale of the couple’s marital residence, where the former wife resided.
The dispute stemmed back to Albert Eckman and Christina Eckman’s stipulation of settlement in their 1992 divorce. The stipulation outlined many post-divorce procedures, including spelling out one for the sale of the couple’s marital residence. The stipulation stated that the sale would not take place until all of the couple’s children were emancipated. The document then went on to define emancipated as turning age 21, but it carved out an exception for a child over age 21 who was “diligently pursuing” graduate or post-graduate studies.
Once the couple’s youngest daughter turned 21, the former husband attempted to invoke the stipulation language regarding the sale of the home, contending that all of the children were emancipated. The wife challenged this, arguing that the youngest child was continuing her education, meaning that she was not yet emancipated under the stipulation’s definition.
The trial court sided with the former husband, and the Appellate Division reached the same result. The law subjects divorce settlement stipulations like the Eckmans’ to the same sort of analysis and interpretation as any other contract. That means that, if the language contained in the document is clear and free of any ambiguity, the courts are obligated to look only at what the document says, without considering any outside evidence.
The language in the Eckmans’ stipulation had sufficient clarity and lack of ambiguity. The procedure for selling the marital home was to be initiated when all the children were emancipated. A child was emancipated if she had turned 21, unless she was still “diligently pursuing” her education. Even viewing the couple’s youngest daughter’s ongoing educational pursuits through the description offered by the mother, the child’s activities only amounted to an “intermittent attendance at a string of educational institutions,” in the eyes of the court, and this intermittent attendance could not possibly constitute a diligent pursuit of a graduate or post-graduate degree.
The daughter’s activities plainly fell short, leaving no hurdle left to delay the start of the procedures for selling the house.
The success or failure of a marital settlement agreement often hinge on how well each element is drafted in order to ensure that everyone involved is clear regarding what the couple has decided. Once such an agreement is reached, and even if it is entirely clear, it may still be necessary to go to court if one spouse later decides that she no longer views the agreement’s terms favorably. For clear, informative advice and top-quality representation regarding the enforcement of your marital settlement agreement, reach out to New York family law attorney Ingrid Gherman. She has the knowledge and experience you need to make sure you get the benefit of the agreement you signed.
Contact her online or by calling (212) 941-0767 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Husband Loses Millions in Separate Property Credits Due to Prenuptial Agreement’s Use of ‘The’, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, Dec. 18, 2014
When New York Property is at Risk of Equitable Distribution in Divorce, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, Dec. 9, 2014