Many couples who decide to end their marriage are able to negotiate the terms of their separation successfully. When such agreements are memorialized in writing and submitted to the court, they typically will be incorporated into the judgment of divorce. While written separation agreements deal with family law issues, they are nonetheless contracts and are construed and enforced in the same manner as any other contract. Recently, a New York court issued an opinion discussing the interpretation of a written separation agreement in a case in which the former wife sought enforcement of the agreement between her and her former husband. If you intend to end your marriage, it is important to understand the implications of your decision, and you should speak to a trusted New York divorce lawyer.
History of the Case
It is reported that the husband and wife married in 1984 and had three children during their marriage. In 2007, they entered into a written separation agreement that stated, among other things, that the husband was responsible for the expenses associated with the former marital residence and had exclusive possession of the residence, where he would live with the children. In 2010, however, they modified the agreement to grant the wife exclusive possession of the residence until the youngest child turned 21, at which point the home would be placed on the market.
Allegedly, the parties divorced in 2011, and the written separation agreement was incorporated into the judgment of divorce. In 2018, the wife moved to enforce the provisions of the agreement requiring the husband to pay expenses associated with the house and child support arrears. The court denied the motion, and the wife appealed.
Interpreting and Enforcing Written Separation Agreements
Under New York law, a separation agreement that is incorporated into a judgment of divorce but not merged is a contract. As such, it is subject to the principles of contract interpretation. The court explained that courts construing such agreements should interpret them in accordance with their ordinary and plain meaning and should arrive at a reading that gives fair meaning to the language used by the parties so that their reasonable expectations will be met.
As such, if the language of a written settlement agreement is unambiguous and clear, the court should interpret the parties’ intent based on that language without looking to outside evidence. In the subject case, the court found that the wife demonstrated that the husband breached the agreement by failing to pay the expenses associated with the former marital residence. The court declined to adopt the husband’s argument that the parties had an understanding that the wife would be responsible for such expenses, noting that was not reflected in the terms of the contract.
Talk to an Assertive New York Divorce Attorney
Written separation agreements can help divorcing couples define their rights and obligations, but if either party fails to uphold the agreement, it can lead to contentious battles. If you want to obtain a divorce, it is smart to talk to an attorney as soon as possible. Ksenia Rudyuk is an assertive New York family law attorney who can advise you of your rights and help you to pursue the best legal outcome possible under the facts of your case. You can contact Ms. Rudyuk through the form online or at 212-706-2001 to set up a meeting.