This is an interesting case related to language of a divorce agreement. I am always reminded of how important it is to set out clear terms in a divorce agreement. This is an alimony case that originated in Jackson County, Alabama. The parties divorced and the wife was awarded alimony for 2 years. As a part of the divorce agreement, the parties agreed that the divorce court retained jurisdiction to review the case during the 2 year period. The wife filed a petition to modify the alimony before the 2 year time period expired and the court denied to hear the petition.
The parties were married in 1991. They were divorced in January 2012. Pursuant to an agreement of the parties, the former husband agreed to pay $1,400 per month in alimony for six months and thereafter, $2,400 per month in alimony for 24 months. He also agreed to maintain health insurance for the benefit of the former wife for 36 months unless she became otherwise insured. The divorce agreement also stated that the court retained jurisdiction to review alimony and medical insurance for a period of two years to determine if it should be terminated, increased, or decreased.
Before the 2 year period expired, the wife filed a petition to modify the alimony obligation. The trial court dismissed the case. The court determined that the alimony was not renewable for two years.
In March, 2014, the wife filed a second petition requesting that the trial court modify the alimony obligations of the former husband. The trial court denied the former wife’s contempt claims. No appeal was taken from that judgment. In April 2014, the former husband filed a motion to dismiss in the case.
The trial court granted the husband’s motion and awarded the former husband’s request for attorney’s fees. The former wife appealed. The case was affirmed in part; reversed in part as to other issues.
“Under the law of the case doctrine, ‘whatever is once established between the same parties in the same case continues to be the law of that case, whether or not correct on general principles, so long as the facts on which the decision was predicated continue to be the facts of the case.’” Lary v. Flasch Bus. Consulting.
In the second petition action, the former wife argued that the former husband had cancelled her health insurance. The trial court dismissed the entire action. The appellate court held that, “it appears possible that the former wife could prove a set of circumstances entitling her to relief, and the former husband has not argued to the contrary.”
The take away from this case is that it is important to make sure that the language in a divorce agreement is clear. In the court’s analysis of this case, it appears that the court was not going to modify the language of the agreement between the parties. If you are going through a divorce, it is necessary that your lawyer defines terms of the agreement without any ambiguity. In my practice representing people in divorce, I go to great lengths not to have any ambiguity in the language as to the terms of the agreement.