Many marital settlement agreements contain language that says, in effect, that just because a party does not pursue a contempt action for a breach of the agreement, does not mean they waive their right to enforce the agreement in the future. In other words, just because I don’t take you to Court over your mistake, does not mean I am saying what you did was okay and will let it slide indefinitely.

A recently published Erie County case, however, highlights the fact that both attorneys and parties need to remember that even marital settlement agreements are subject to common law contract principals like statutes of limitations. In the Erie County case, Deeter v. Deeter, 94 Erie 24 (Dec. 17, 2010), the Court considered the issue of whether a party’s breach of the marital settlement agreement was actionable or barred by a four year statute of limitation. In this instance, the Court found that the party had to file an enforcement action within four years of the breach rather than within four years of the execution of the agreement.

This holding reminds parties and practitioners that a Marital Settlement Agreement, Pre-nuptial Agreement, or Ante-nuptial Agreement is, at its essence, a contract that applies contract principles for the enforcement, creation, and interpretation of that contract. Diligence as to the adherence and prosecution of breaches of the agreement are equally important to ensure that both parties to the agreement fulfill their contractual duties. If you are the party to such an agreement and have any questions as to what you’re supposed to do or what the other party is supposed to do under the agreement, consult with an attorney immediately. As the Deeter case demonstrates, if you do not act within four years of the breach, you can eventually lose your right to enforce the terms of the contract.