In a perfect world, marital settlement agreements (MSAs a/k/a Property Settlement Agreements) are crystal clear and cover every possible contingency under the sun (I say this as when first drafting this post, I was being contacted frantically by a client regarding custody provisions in the event of school closure because of hurricane.) That perfect world rarely exists for many reasons, including the main reason that most cases would never settle and/or the cost would be outlandish if every possible contingency is contemplated and negotiated. That said, we do our best to address to the most germane and likely issues.
If the document cannot cover every possible thing under the sun, at least the final document should be clear and include the parties’ actual meeting of the minds on the included issues. Sadly, this does not always happen either. Sometimes, the parties meeting of the minds is really not a meeting of the minds – that is, they each believe that the settlement is something else but the language of the agreement is vague or imprecise enough where they both think that they are right. Some people actually do this on purpose to keep an argument on a "hot button" issue alive for the future. Other times, it is simply inartful, to put it kindly, or down right bad drafting that causes future problems.
If a party can convince a court that the terms of the agreement represent a mutual mistake, perhaps there is some relief and the agreement can be re-formed. That said, more often then not, one of the parties gets really hurt by virtue of the poor drafting.
This appears to be what happened in the case of Rozier v. Byrd, an unreported (non-precedential) opinion released by the Appellate Division on October 26, 2012. In this case, either someone was trying to be cute and the law of unintended consequences jumped up to bite him, or he was the apparent victim of a poorly drafted agreement.
Continue Reading Sloppy Drafting of Marital Settlement Agreements Can Cause Great Harm – Usually to only one of the parties