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AgreementsDivorceProperty DivisionSettlement Agreement Ambiguities Result in More Litigation

July 20, 2007

The Appellate Division in Walker v. Walker provides us with yet another lesson on the importance of carefully drafting martial agreements.

In Walker, the parties, in an oral stipulation of settlement, agreed to divide a 75 acre property. The stipulation specifically provided that defendant "would be entitled to one-half or 37½; acres off the westerly side of that parcel of 75 acres (emphasis added)."  Not surprisingly, the parties then had a dispute about how the property was to be actually divided.

On appeal, the Court found that the stipulation was ambiguous,

because there is no mechanism by which to determine how much of defendant’s 37½; acres must be from the "westerly side" of the parcel. Stated otherwise, the stipulation provides no basis from which to discern a dividing line.

As the result of a simple, and, perhaps, misplaced “or” in a settlement agreement, the parties were forced to perfect an appeal and to conduct a hearing to clear up the ambiguity and to ascertain their intent at the time (they thought) they settled the case.

The lesson, select the language of agreements carefully. If necessary, give examples. In this case, an illustration on the land survey showing how the property was to be divided would have saved this couple a lot of legal fees and heartache.

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