The Termination of Alimony upon Remarriage Must be Clearly Stated

August 29, 2019

McQuarrie v. McQuarrie, 2019 UT App 147 (Filed August 29, 2019)

Alimony may not automatically terminate upon remarriage even if the decree does not specifically provide otherwise, if the decree as a whole is interpreted to not contemplate the termination of alimony upon remarriage.  The lesson here it to specifically put in the decree clear language in the alimony terms as to whether alimony will terminate upon remarriage or not. Here's what the court of appeals said in this convoluted case and fact scenario:

¶27 Melvin argues his alimony obligation automatically terminated upon Janette’s remarriage because the Decree did not “specifically provide otherwise.” See Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(9) (LexisNexis Supp. 2018). We disagree.

¶28 “Alimony is presumed to terminate upon the remarriage of the receiving spouse.” Johnson v. Johnson, 855 P.2d 250, 252 (Utah Ct. App. 1993). Utah courts have long recognized this presumption, see, e.g., Austad v. Austad, 269 P.2d 284, 290 (Utah 1954) (“[T]here is implicit in the divorce decree the provision that the alimony continues only so long as the [receiving spouse] remains unmarried.”), and it is now codified in Utah Code section 30-3-5(9). That provision provides, “Unless a decree of divorce specifically provides otherwise, any order of the court that a party pay alimony to a former spouse automatically terminates upon the remarriage or death of that former spouse.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(9).

¶29 Here, the Decree was entered by default “pursuant to the terms set forth in” Melvin and Janette’s “mediated stipulation for divorce.” “[I]n the context of a divorce, parties are generally bound by their stipulations.” Thayer v. Thayer, 2016 UT App 146, ¶ 17, 378 P.3d 1232. “Accordingly, we interpret [the Decree] according to established rules of contract interpretation.” Id. (quotation simplified). “The underlying purpose in interpreting a contract is to ascertain the intentions of the parties to the contract.” Id. (quotation simplified). To do that, “we look to the plain meaning of the contractual language, and we consider each contract provision in relation to all of the others, with a view toward giving effect to all and ignoring none.” Id. (quotation simplified).

¶30 The Decree does not identify Janette’s remarriage as an event that will terminate Melvin’s obligation to pay alimony. Instead, paragraph 10 orders Melvin to make alimony payments “until the first of any of the following occurrences: [Melvin’s] death; [t]he expiration of 372 months from the signing of the [Decree]; or [Janette’s] death.” . . .

[So instead of specifically stating that alimony ended upon remarriage, the decree outlined several other provisions not relating to alimony that mentioned potential remarriage specifically, but excluded the specific language that alimony would terminate upon remarriage.]

¶31 Nevertheless, our analysis must consider paragraph 10 “in relation to” each of the Decree’s other provisions, “with a view toward giving effect to all and ignoring none.” See Thayer, 2016 UT App 146, ¶ 17 (quotation simplified). And based on our review of the Decree “as a whole,” we conclude that its language specifically provides that alimony would survive Janette’s remarriage.

¶35 As outlined above, see supra ¶ 7, the Decree is replete with references to future spouses. The Decree’s provisions delineate obligations, but they expressly exclude a future spouse or that spouse’s children. Janette is allowed to designate a beneficiary for a required annuity, but she expressly may not designate a future spouse or that spouse’s children. The requirement for Melvin to pay off the marital house’s mortgage continues even if Janette remarries. Finally, the Decree prohibits divestiture of assets or the disclosure of the terms of the Decree to a future spouse. These provisions lead us to conclude that the parties considered Janette’s potential remarriage and specifically agreed on how that event would affect their respective rights and obligations under the Decree. Accordingly, the only “reasonable” interpretation of the Decree as a whole is that alimony terminates only as expressly provided in paragraph 10. See Peirce v. Peirce, 2000 UT 7, ¶ 19, 994 P.2d 193 (“[W]e interpret the terms of a contract in light of the reasonable expectations of the parties, looking to the agreement as a whole and to the circumstances, nature, and purpose of the contract.” (emphasis added)).

¶36 Therefore, we conclude that Melvin’s alimony obligation did not automatically terminate upon Janette’s remarriage, because the Decree “specifically provides otherwise,” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(9), and we affirm the district court’s dismissal of Melvin’s petition to terminate alimony.

McQuarrie v. McQuarrie, 2019 UT App 147 (Filed August 29, 2019).

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