Enforcing Settlement Agreements Through the Agreement or Judgment?
In a recent decision by the Second District Court of Appeal, Webb v. Webb, the Court determined that when a marital settlement agreement is incorporated into a final judgment, and the court retains jurisdiction to enforce the judgment, enforcement of the agreement is generally subject to the 20-year statute of limitations set forth in Section 95.11(1), Florida Statutes.[i] The Webb Court noted that the party opposing enforcement failed to press the defense of laches, and it thus issued no ruling on the applicability or viability of this affirmative defense.[ii]
The Webb Court cited other cases within the State of Florida, which similarly held that the 20-year statute of limitations applied to the enforcement of judgments, and that when seeking to receive what is otherwise contemplated by the parties in entering settlement agreements, when incorporated into final judgments of dissolution, the relief is framed correctly as enforcement rather than modification.[iii] While the Court acknowledged that sister courts in other states have not issued rulings consistent with its own, it nonetheless concluded that when the marital settlement agreement is incorporated into a judgment that dissolves a marriage and reserves jurisdiction for enforcement, it can be enforced either through the parties’ agreement or through the judgment.[iv]
In reaching its decision, the Court rejected the former husband’s argument that the motion to enforce the judgment, as filed by the former wife, was subject to a five-year statute of limitations governing written contracts.[v] The final judgment entered by the circuit court dissolved the parties’ marriage, fully “approved and incorporated … by reference” the parties’ marital settlement agreement, and reserved jurisdiction to enforce the divorce judgment.[vi]
In addition to the applicability of affirmative defenses to enforcement of the judgment after a protracted time period has lapsed, there was also no discussion of the availability of certain options to the holder of a money judgment in such a cause, including a judgment lien, the creation of a new judgment prior to the expiration of the original judgment, or the execution on assets of the judgment debtor to satisfy the judgment. Additionally, and worth noting, the 20-year statute of limitations applicable to actions on judgments is for judgments by courts of record in this State, and does not apply to judgments of other states or to courts of the United States.
The Webb decision is consistent with other decisions of courts in Florida insisting that contracting parties’ have a right to the benefit of their bargain. The applicability of the 20-year statute of limitations to final judgments of dissolution, when incorporating the terms of a marital settlement agreement and reserving jurisdiction to enforce the judgment, affords some relief to those parties with monetary judgments against their former spouses.[i]
Webb v. Webb, 2020 WL 5079509, at *2 (Fla. 2d DCA Aug. 28, 2020).
[ii] Id. at *5, n.2.
[iii] Id. at *2.
[iv] Id. at *4.
[v] Id. at *2.
[vi] Id. at *4.
Nicole Deese Newlon is a Partner with Johnson, Newlon & DeCort, P.A. in Tampa, Florida. She represents clients in complex litigation matters in the areas of business and family law. Nicole can be reached by phone at (813) 699-4859 or on the web at www.jnd-law.com.