Why Good Drafting Counts
A recent decision issued by Florida’s intermediate appellate court, Craissati v. Craissati, amply demonstrates the importance of good contract writing skill. The husband and wife in this case entered into a marital settlement agreement, in which the husband agreed to pay alimony for eight years. Like most alimony agreements, this agreement provided that the alimony would terminate upon the death of the recipient, her remarriage, or cohabitation for a period of three months or more.
The wife in this case was incarcerated after a DUI conviction, and the husband petitioned the court for termination of his contractual alimony obligation. The parties stipulated that wife was, technically, “cohabiting” with her cell mate for a period in excess of three months, and that the termination clause of the marital settlement agreement was unambiguous. Still, the trial court held, the termination of alimony due to incarceration would be an absurd result not within the contemplation of the parties. The trial court modified the amount of alimony (since wife’s needs had been temporarily curtailed) but refused to terminate the obligation.
On appeal, the Florida appellate court reversed, adopting a literal construction of the agreement. Adding insult to injury, the author of the opinion found that driving under the influence was a voluntary act known to possibly result in incarceration, so the wife should have known that her criminal behavior could result in the termination of alimony.
If only the prisons were less crowded, the wife could have maintained her alimony award, I guess.