Law School Case Brief
Miles v. Miles - 393 S.C. 111, 711 S.E.2d 880 (2011)
The interpretation of extrajudicial agreements on marital issues is a matter of contract law. Where an agreement is clear on its face and unambiguous, the court's only function is to interpret its lawful meaning and the intent of the parties as found within the agreement. However, if the agreement is ambiguous, it is the court's duty to determine the intent of the parties.
The wife filed a petition for divorce. The parties waived alimony and entered into an agreement, which was incorporated into the divorce decree. The agreement simply stated that the husband would provide health and dental insurance for the wife. The husband filed an action to modify the final order. His earning capacity and health had significantly deteriorated since the time of his divorce from the wife, and the wife found herself in improved economic conditions. The trial court denied the petition, and the appellate court affirmed. The husband sought review of the judgments.
Was the husband entitled to a modification to the agreement to provide healthcare?
The court reversed the lower court judgments, and held that because there was no language in the agreement limiting the family court's power to modify it, a modification was warranted based on a substantial change in circumstances. Unless the agreement provided otherwise, the obligation to maintain health insurance was an incident of support. The mere fact that the parties waived alimony did not lead to the inescapable conclusion that they waived all other forms of support. The husband demonstrated a substantial change in circumstances that merited a modification in his support obligation to provide health and dental insurance coverage for the wife.
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