Jerry Scott and Camilla Hussein-Scott dissolved their marriage and signed a marital settlement agreement requiring Jerry to pay alimony every month. On the line of the agreement reserved for the alimony termination date, Jerry wrote “12/2/2020,” which is the 18th birthday of their youngest daughter, Myriam. But on the next line, in a space left blank for “other specifics,” Jerry wrote, “To be paid until Yasmine Scott’s 18th birthday or until remarriage.” Yasmine is the couple’s middle daughter, and her 18th birthday is August 1, 2015. We are asked if Jerry’s alimony obligation ends on the earlier date or the later one. Relying on the well-established rule that the more important or principal clause controls, we conclude that Jerry’s support obligation terminates on December 2, 2020, or upon Camilla’s remarriage if earlier.
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
Jerry Scott and Camilla Hussein-Scott were married in Eugene, Oregon and had three children, Salome, Yasmine, and Myriam. The couple separated after 13 years of marriage. At the time, Camilla was living in Florida with the children, and Jerry was working in Alaska. Four years later, Jerry filed a petition to dissolve the marriage, and Jerry and Camilla signed a marital settlement agreement. Jerry handwrote the agreement’s terms on a pre-printed form. The agreement disposed of the marital assets and liabilities and set terms for child support, custody, and visitation, as well as spousal support. A Florida court adopted the agreement by reference and dissolved the marriage.
The current dispute arose because the spousal support provision of the settlement agreement is ambiguous. The pre-printed settlement agreement form required the parties to specify the amount, frequency, and duration of alimony payments. The parties indicated that Jerry would pay Camilla $10,000 every month, continuing until “12/2/2020.” This is the 18th birthday of their youngest daughter, Myriam. The next line of the form asked the parties to “Explain [the] type of alimony (temporary, permanent, rehabilitative, and/or lump sum) and any other specifics.” Jerry circled the word “temporary,” and, in the space provided, wrote “To be paid until Yasmine Scott’s 18th birthday or until remarriage.” Yasmine is the couple’s middle daughter. She will turn 18 on August 1, 2015, more than five years before the termination date specified on the line above. As the superior court noted, “Obviously the parties intended to have both descriptions identify the same date. Thus they either erred by using the wrong date (12/2/2020) for Yasmine’s 18th birthday or they erred in the descriptive phrase by referring to Yasmine rather than Myriam.”
Judge(s): Dana Fabe
Jurisdiction: Alaska Supreme Court
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|Appellant Lawyer(s)||Appellant Law Firm(s)|
|Terry Aglietti||Aglietti Offret & Woofter|
|Appellee Lawyer(s)||Appellee Law Firm(s)|