Florida Court Explains Deadline for Enforcing Marital Settlement Agreements

It is not uncommon in divorce actions for the parties to develop a marital settlement agreement, which is essentially a contract that sets forth their rights and obligations, or for the court to incorporate the agreement into the final judgment that dissolves the marriage. If a party refuses to comply with the terms of a marital settlement agreement, however, a dispute may arise as to whether an action to enforce the agreement is subject to the statute of limitations that applies to contracts or the one that applies to judgments. Recently, a Florida court addressed this issue in a case in which the wife waited almost twenty years to file a motion to enforce a divorce judgment. If your spouse refuses to comply with the terms of your marital settlement agreement, it is advisable to contact a seasoned Florida family law attorney to assess your rights and your options for seeking enforcement.

Factual Background

It is alleged that the husband and the wife entered into a marital settlement agreement in 1997. The agreement divided their marital property, business assets, and debts, and dictated that the husband was to pay the wife close to half a million dollars, either in a lump sum or in five principal payments, plus interest, which were due each year beginning in 2001. The agreement was incorporated into the final judgment dissolving the marriage, which was issued in April 1997.

It is reported that the husband failed to make any payments as required under the agreement, however. Then, in 2017, one day shy of the twentieth anniversary of the entry of the divorce judgment, the wife filed a motion to enforce the judgment. The court granted the motion and ordered the husband to pay close to one million dollars to the wife based on the amount of principal payments plus accrued interest. The husband appealed, arguing that the wife’s motion was barred by the statute of limitations.

Statute of Limitations for Seeking Enforcement of Marital Settlement Agreements

On review, the court explained that a statute of limitations has no impact on the substantive rights of a party, but instead limits the availability of a remedy. In cases in which there is a reasonable doubt as to the intent of the legislature, a court should allow a party to proceed under the longer period of time. The court noted that while no Florida courts had made a precise ruling on the issue of which statute of limitations applied to enforce a marital settlement agreement, case law leaned in favor of employing the twenty-year limitation that applied to actions to enforce divorce judgments, rather than the five-year limitations that applied to contracts. Thus, the court explicitly ruled that when a court incorporates a marital settlement agreement into a final divorce judgment, enforcement of the agreement via the judgment is subject to a twenty-year statute of limitations. As such, the trial court ruling was affirmed.

Confer with a Trusted Florida Attorney

When a party fails to comply with a marital settlement agreement, it can drastically impact the rights and financial status of the party’s former spouse. If your former spouse refuses to abide by the terms of your settlement or divorce agreement, the trusted Florida family law attorneys of Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, P.A. can assist you in developing a strategy to help you fight to protect your rights. You can contact us through our online form or at 800-283-7442 to schedule a conference.

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