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Separation Agreements

Common Questions on Separation Agreements

Do Maryland courts encourage separation agreements?

Yes. Separation agreements are generally favored by Maryland courts as a peaceful means of terminating marital strife and discord so long as they are not contrary to public policy.

Can a separation agreement include terms that a court could not order?

Yes. Parties often include provisions in a separation agreement which are beyond a court’s power to order. However, once included in a separation agreement, such terms can be enforced by court order such as payment for college and life insurance protection.

How is a separation agreement enforced?

Terms of a separation agreement, which has been incorporated into a divorce decree, are enforceable either through contempt proceedings or as an independent contract.

What if there is a dispute about what the parties meant?

A Maryland court is required to give effect to an agreement’s “plain meaning,” without regard to what the parties actually thought it meant or intended it to mean. The terms of an agreement are given their usual and ordinary meaning, unless it is clear that the parties assigned a special or technical meaning to certain words. Put another way, the test of what is meant is what a “reasonable person” in the position of the parties would have thought the contract meant.

When is the language of an agreement considered ambiguous?

Contractual language is considered ambiguous when the words used would tend to have more than one meaning to a “reasonable person.” To determine if contractual language is ambiguous, a Maryland court reviews the contract itself; it must also consider the character of the contract, its purpose, and the facts and circumstances of the parties at the time the contract was executed.

Are there any circumstances in which a separation agreement is invalid altogether?

As with other contracts, a separation agreement is voidable, and subject to “rescission” (meaning cancellation or annulment), if it can be shown that it was unconscionable or was obtained through fraud, duress, or undue influence. These are usually difficult to prove. For example, to establish duress there must be a wrongful act which strips the individual of the ability to utilize.

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