Brannock & Humphries Prevails In Family Law Dispute Over Meaning Of The Word “A”
“The tiniest words can have the greatest consequence,” the Second District Court of Appeal stated in ruling for a Brannock & Humphries client today in a $1.5 million disagreement that turned on the appellate court’s interpretation of the parties’ prenuptial agreement.
The case had a unique procedural twist. The parties’ prenuptial agreement provided for a lump-sum payment to be calculated and made from the husband to the wife based on the number of years the parties were married “at the time a petition for dissolution of marriage is filed.” As it turned out, the wife originally filed for divorce after the parties had been married for seven years. Under the terms of the agreement, the amount of the payment at that time would have been $2.7 million. But the couple later reconciled, and the wife’s petition was dismissed.
Three years later, though, the wife again filed for divorce. By then, the parties had been married for ten years. A dispute subsequently arose regarding whether the lump-sum payment should be calculated based on the timing of the first petition or at the much higher amount of $4.2 million in accordance with the timing of the second petition.
Noting that the agreement appeared not to address this situation of multiple petitions being filed, the appellate court determined that the answer turned on the meaning of the indefinite article “a,” as used in the agreement’s phrase “a petition for dissolution of marriage.” And the court decided that the “natural meaning” of the phrase connotes the “first time” something occurs. Thus, the court held that the payment should be calculated as Brannock & Humphries urged: based on the number of years the parties had been married when the first petition was filed.
The Second District’s opinion is available here.