We scored another big appellate win which sheds light on the question: are you enforcing or modifying your marital settlement agreement when a family court requires the continuation of soccer and other extra-curriculars?
The Beautiful Game
In our recent appeal, the parents had three children. After less than a decade of marriage, they divorced in Portugal, but they never had a parenting plan for their children. After they both moved to Miami with the children, a family court ratified their agreed parenting plan.
Under their parenting plan, they agreed to certain extracurricular activities, including organized activities such as soccer, lessons and special training. However, the sports and activities had to be mutually agreed on by the parents in accordance with Florida’s shared parental responsibility statute.
All of the children’s current extracurricular activities, especially ‘the beautiful game,’ soccer, were agreed upon by both parents. Additionally, they agreed that the parent exercising time sharing with the children handle the transportation with the necessary equipment.
Although all three of the children were traditionally dedicated to sporting activities, their involvement in youth soccer travel teams had increased, requiring more of a time commitment because the children are expected to attend frequent practices, and regularly traveling outside of their local community for games and tournaments.
The father filed a motion to stop the soccer commitments of the children and to eliminate his obligation to transport the children to certain competitive events during his timesharing.
The family judge heard his motion, and, after considering the relative merits of the parties, along with the language reflected within the parenting plan, entreated the parties to reach an agreement as to enrollment and participation in the relevant activities.
When that failed, the court conducted another hearing and authorized the mother to re-enroll the children in their respective leagues and directing the father to transport the children to those competitive events scheduled during his timesharing.
Florida Marital Settlement Agreements
I’ve written about modifications and enforcement of marital settlement agreements before. Most family law cases are resolved by agreement, not by trial. A Marital Settlement Agreement is the method to resolving all of the issues, and is the final product of the negotiations.
A marital settlement agreement puts in writing all the aspects of the divorcing parties’ settlement. Topics covered in the Marital Settlement Agreement include the parenting plan and timesharing schedule, the division of the parties’ assets and liabilities, and often times: soccer and other extra-curricular activities to which the parties have agreed.
A marital settlement agreement entered into by the parties and ratified by a final judgment is a contract, subject to the laws of contract. The enforceability and modifications of contracts in Florida is a matter of importance in Florida public policy.
Because a marital settlement agreement is treated like any other contract, and is subject to interpretation like any other contract, they can be enforced by the court. Unique to marital settlement agreements though, they may be modified too.
But sometimes it is difficult to tell whether the court’s action is a modification of a contract or the enforcement of a contract. Our recent appellate goal hopefully sheds some light on that distinction.
Ruling in our favor, the appellate court wrote an opinion stating that under the principle of shared parental responsibility, major decisions affecting the welfare of the child are to be made after the parents confer and reach an agreement.
However, in cases in which the parents cannot reach agreement on such a decision, the dispute should be presented to the trial court for resolution. In resolving the impasse, the lower tribunal must be guided by a consideration of the best interests of the child.
In our case, the parenting plan allows for shared decisions over extracurricular activities, but prohibited the unreasonable withholding of consent. So, the court was properly permitted to explore the facts and circumstances surrounding both continued participation and transportation.
At the time the parents signed the parenting plan, the children were already heavily involved in soccer. By including a provision that the “present extracurricular activities are agreed upon by both parents,” and allocating continuing enrollment expenses and other relevant allowances for league travel, the agreement clearly anticipated a continuation of such participation.
Further, as the trial court did not “change the status quo [or] alter the rights and obligations of the parties,” but merely rejected the unreasonable withholding of consent, we conclude the decision was grounded in enforcement of the existing 7 terms of the judgment, and affirmed.
The opinion is here.