Written by attorney Dana Elaine Quigley

Invalidating Marital Settlement Agreements in Florida

In Florida, marital settlement agreements are interpreted just like other contracts. Also known as divorce settlement agreements, these documents explain the conditions of the divorce.

As with any contract, the marital contract holds that the acceptance of an offer (marriage proposal) which results in a contract (marriage certificate) must be absolute and unconditional, identical with the terms of the offer, and in the mode, at the place, and within the time expressly or impliedly stated within the offer.

Terminating the marriage contract

If a party withdraws his or her counteroffer and further negotiations are terminated, as with a divorce no binding or enforceable contract is formed. Moreover, as the Florida Courts have long held, "where parties intend that their verbal negotiations shall be reduced to writing as the evidence of the terms of their agreement, there is nothing binding on them until the writing is executed."

A mere offer not assented (agreed) to does not constitute a contract for there must be not only a proposal but an acceptance of the offer. So long as a proposal is not agreed to or accepted, it is not binding on either party and may be retracted. If a party has retracted his or her offer and/or rejected the counteroffer no contract comes into existence and no legal obligations attach or exist.

Understanding the marital settlement agreement

With respect to Marital and Property Settlement Agreements, if a Court finds that a "valid contract" was formed between the parties it may be invalidated and unenforceable on other grounds; for instance, if the agreement was based upon fraud, deceit, duress, coercion, misrepresentation, overreaching, without the benefit of discovery, without a full and frank financial disclosure by the one spouse and without the benefit of an attorney, it may be invalidated.

Accordingly, depending upon the circumstances, even fully signed Marital Settlement Agreement may be invalidated and unenforceable if there is evidence to show that the agreement was reached under fraudulent, deceitful, and/or coercive circumstances without the benefit of a full disclosure of your spouse’s financial disclosure. However, this body of case law does not permit a spouse to set aside or invalidate what the courts consider to be a "bad bargain" or a poor economic decision simply for the sake of he or she got a better deal. These arguments are limited to circumstances where a spouse was mislead or pressured into reaching an agreement.

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