Hahamovitch addresses two important issues relating to the interpretation of prenuptial agreements. The first issue was whether the provisions of the prenuptial agreement were broad enough to waive the Wife’s claims to assets titled solely in the name of the Husband, when those assets were acquired by the Husband during the marriage as the result of marital efforts and assets in his name had appreciated in value during the marriage due to marital efforts.
The agreement provided in part that the Husband shall be the sole owner of all property he purchased, acquired, or otherwise obtained in his own name. The court reasoned that this title provision, when read in conjunction with the other provisions of the agreement, was a waiver by the Wife of her claims. To hold otherwise would ignore the title presumption provision of the agreement. In so holding, the court certified conflict with opinions of the Second and Third Districts that have construed prenuptial agreements with substantially similar title provisions as being insufficient to waive a spouse’s claim to the enhanced value of the other spouse’s non-marital property that resulted from marital earnings. [Irwin v. Irwin, 857 So.2d 247 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2003) and Valdes v. Valdes, 894 So.2d 264 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2004).] The court certified the following question as one of great public importance: “Where a prenuptial agreement provides that neither spouse will ever claim any interest in the other’s property, states that each spouse shall be the sole owner of property purchased or acquired in his or her name, and contains language purporting to waive and release all rights and claims that a spouse may be entitled to as a result of the marriage, do such provisions serve to waive a spouse’s right to any share of assets titled in the other spouse’s name, even if those assets were acquired during the marriage due to the parties’ marital efforts or appreciated in value during the marriage due to the parties’ marital efforts?”
The court rejected the Husband’s argument that because the agreement was signed prior to enactment of the equitable distribution statute in 1988, application of F.S. 61.075 to the agreement would constitute an unconstitutional impairment of a preexisting contract. The Supreme Court in Robertson v. Robertson, 593 So.2d 491 (Fla. 1991) has described F.S. 61.075 as largely a codification of existing case law.
The second issue of interpretation of the prenuptial agreement was whether the Wife had waived her right to seek modification of alimony. The agreement contained a provision for the termination of payments to her upon death or remarriage. The agreement was not solely a property settlement agreement: it was a “blend” of property distribution and alimony. The agreement was silent as to modification of alimony. A waiver of the right to modification of alimony in an agreement must be clear and unambiguous or the interpretation of the agreement as a whole can lead to no other conclusion. The integration clause of the agreement was insufficient to waive modification of the alimony obligation when a substantial change of circumstances existed under F.S. 61.14.
The opinion includes an excellent analysis of the two methods of challenge to the validity of prenuptial agreements. It also provides the history of case law relating to the enhancement and appreciation issues of prenuptial agreements.
Richard West and Susan Savard practice family law in Florida with the law firm of West, Green & Associates.