Recent Florida Case Shows Why Timesharing Agreements Ought to Be Clear, Not Ambiguous
The case of Wohlberg v. Conner was recently decided by Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal. The case helpfully articulates why clear and precise language is essential when parents enter into timesharing agreements or when those agreements are modified.
Here is a closer look at the case and why precision with language matters.
The Facts of the Case
In Wohlberg v. Conner, the parents’ initial marital settlement agreement agreed to a 70/30 timesharing schedule. This meant that the wife would receive more time with the children than the husband, as opposed to an equal timesharing arrangement.
The settlement, however, contained a provision that the parties would exercise equal timesharing if the former husband continuously and timely exercises timesharing with the child for six consecutive months. Just three months after the divorce was finalized, the former wife petitioned the court to find that the former husband had failed to meet the “six consecutive months” standard. As such, the “continuously and timely” requirement needed to receive equal timesharing had not been met, according to the former wife’s petition.
The husband disagreed and moved to dismiss the former wife’s petition, arguing that the petition was made prematurely since six months had not passed since the divorce was made final. The court ultimately dismissed the wife’s petition, and one year later the husband filed a petition to enforce the settlement provision that would result in equal timesharing.
The husband admitted that the timesharing had not been continuous and timely in the first six months post-divorce, but he also claimed that the 70/30 timeshare had been continuous and timely for the six months prior to the petition’s filing. The wife, however, argued that the “six consecutive months” stated within the settlement agreement applied to the period immediately after the divorce finalized, not just any six month period. The wife also used an alternative argument, which claimed that the agreement was ambiguous as to how the six consecutive months standard should have been applied.
The trial court granted the husband’s motion, finding no ambiguity in the “six months” provision. The trial court also found that the husband did meet the “continuous and timely” standard for a period of six months, which led to the former husband receiving equal timesharing.
The wife then appealed to the 4th District Court, arguing that the provision was ambiguous. As such, the parties’ intent on the issue should have been considered, which she claimed was to limit the provision to the first six months after the dissolution was made final.
The Appellate Court Agreed That the Settlement Agreement Provision Was Ambiguous
The 4th District Court wrote in its opinion that the settlement agreement does not make any mention of when the period of six consecutive months ought to begin. Due to this ambiguity, the court concluded that a hearing was needed to consider extrinsic evidence related to the intent of the parties.
Where marital settlement agreements are concerned, precise language is of utmost importance. Clear and unambiguous language is the best way to ensure legal disputes such as this one are avoided, while also protecting the legal rights of both parties that enter the agreement.
Contact The McKinney Law Group for a legal consultation to discuss how to draft a Florida marital settlement agreement that is free of ambiguity that could harm your legal interests.
If you have questions regarding a Tampa divorce lawyer, or are unaware as to the terms and conditions in, talk to, and retain, a family law attorney who can help. Contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at [email protected]