Mattox v. Cassady, 0725

Decision Date25 March 1986
Docket NumberNo. 0725,0725
Citation344 S.E.2d 620,289 S.C. 57
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals
PartiesHarold Odell MATTOX, Respondent, v. Jo Ellen CASSADY, Appellant. . Heard

Kenneth G. Goode and Michael J. Mueller, Winnsboro, for appellant.

James T. McLaren, Columbia, for respondent.


Respondent Harold Odell Mattox, who had previously entered into a court approved agreement with his former wife, appellant Jo Ellen Cassady, petitioned the family court to terminate the agreed to alimony payments because his former wife had remarried. The trial judge granted the husband's petition and the wife appeals on the ground that the parties had agreed to an alimony award as part of an integrated property settlement. We reverse and remand.

The parties were divorced in February 1979. The family court approved their oral agreement and incorporated it into the divorce decree which provides in pertinent part:

That the Petitioner [wife] shall convey to the Respondent [husband] her undivided one-half interest in and to the liquor store; that the Respondent shall pay alimony, in gross, to the Petitioner at a rate of Three Hundred Fifty and no/100 ($350.00) Dollars per month until June 24, 1985, at which time the Respondent shall thereafter pay to the Petitioner the sum of Two Hundred and no/100 ($200.00) Dollars per month alimony, in gross, and that said Two Hundred and no/100 ($200.00) Dollars per month payments shall continue until either her death or his death and shall not be subject to revision by increase or decrease due to changing circumstances including the remarriage of the Petitioner....

* * * That the above payments of alimony ... shall terminate in the event of the death of the Petitioner but, in the event of death of the Respondent prior to June 24, 1985, the estate of Respondent shall be liable for such payments until such date.

The wife remarried in June of 1981. The husband continued to pay alimony until June 1983 when he petitioned the family court to terminate his obligation to pay alimony from the date of the wife's remarriage. He claimed that the payments were in the nature of periodic alimony and terminable upon remarriage of the wife under provisions of Section 20-3-150, 1976 Code of Laws of South Carolina.

The trial court denied the husband's request for retroactive termination on the basis that requiring her to repay the alimony she had received since her remarriage would be inequitable. Nevertheless, the court ruled that the parties' agreement contemplated periodic alimony because it had "neither the language to indicate property settlement, or release of marital property rights, nor the characteristics of lump sum alimony (calculable lump sum payable over stated period)...." The trial court terminated the alimony payments effective April 1, 1984.

The sole issue presented by the wife in this appeal is whether the trial court misconstrued the agreement of the parties as requiring periodic alimony only.

Since the divorce decree involved in this appeal was entered prior to Moseley v. Mosier, 279 S.C. 348, 306 S.E.2d 624 (1983) our decision is based entirely on pre-Moseley law. 1 An award of periodic alimony may be modified by the family court upon a showing of changed circumstances. Brockington v. Brockington, 277 S.C. 304, 286 S.E.2d 381 (1982). Conversely, "if the divorce court awards alimony in gross, or in a lump sum, without reserving the power to amend, the court cannot modify the provision even where it is payable in installments." Darden v. Witham, 258 S.C. 380, 387, 188 S.E.2d 776, 778 (1972). Likewise, payments that are part of a "true property settlement agreement" ordinarily may not be modified judicially. 258 S.C. at 388, 188 S.E.2d at 778.

Like any other agreement, when the language of a settlement agreement is susceptible of more than one interpretation, it is the duty of the court to ascertain the intentions of the parties. Marshall v. Marshall, 282 S.C. 336, 318 S.E.2d 133 (Ct.App.1984). The intentions of the parties to a settlement agreement must be determined as far as possible from the terms of the contract and once determined, they must be given effect by the court. Kane v. Kane, 280 S.C. 479, 481, 313 S.E.2d 327, 329 (Ct.App.1984). It is the general rule that parol evidence is admissible to show the true meaning of an ambiguous written contract. Klutts Resort Realty, Inc. v. Down'round Development Corp., 268 S.C. 80, 232 S.E.2d 20 (1982). The purpose of all rules of contract construction is to determine the parties' intentions. The courts in attempting to ascertain this intention, will endeavor to determine the situation of the parties, as well as their purposes at the time the contract was entered. Bruce v. Blalock, 241 S.C. 155, 161, 127 S.E.2d 439 (1962).

Mrs. Cassady argues that the provision for "alimony" is a "true property settlement agreement," or, is a provision for "alimony in gross" unaffected by her remarriage and unmodifiable by the court. Since the agreement taken as a whole does not clearly demonstrate what the parties intended by reference to "gross alimony," we are required to interpret the agreement to ascertain the intention of the parties at the time the agreement was executed. Klutts Resort Realty, Inc., 268 S.C. at 89, 232 S.E.2d at 25.

Commonly, a property settlement agreement: (1) determines the rights of the parties in jointly owned property and states the disposition to be made of it; (2) settles all claims of each spouse in the property of the other and claims of each spouse to title to property held in the name of the other; (3) mutually releases all past and present claims except as established by the agreement; (4) waives and releases all future rights as spouse in the property of each other; (5) surrenders the rights of each on the death of the other, including rights of inheritance, homestead, dower, ...; and (6) agrees that each will execute all...

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28 cases
  • Ecclesiastes Prod. Ministries v. Outparcel
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • June 14, 2007
    ...268 S.C. 80, 89, 232 S.E.2d 20, 25 (1977); Bruce v. Blalock, 241 S.C. 155, 161, 127 S.E.2d 439, 442 (1962); Mattox v. Cassady, 289 S.C. 57, 61, 344 S.E.2d 620, 622 (Ct.App.1986). In Brady v. Brady, 222 S.C. 242, 72 S.E.2d 193 (1952) the South Carolina Supreme Court It is fundamental that in......
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    ...268 S.C. 80, 89, 232 S.E.2d 20, 25 (1977); Bruce v. Blalock, 241 S.C. 155, 161, 127 S.E.2d 439, 442 (1962); Mattox v. Cassady, 289 S.C. 57, 61, 344 S.E.2d 620, 622 (Ct.App.1986). "[By] doing so, the court is able to avail itself of the same light which the parties possessed when the agreeme......
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    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
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    ...Ltd. P'ship, 331 S.C. 385, 390, 503 S.E.2d 184, 187 (Ct.App.1998); Ebert, 320 S.C. at 338, 465 S.E.2d at 125; Mattox v. Cassady, 289 S.C. 57, 60, 344 S.E.2d 620, 622 (Ct.App.1986) ("Like any other agreement, when the language of a settlement agreement [incorporated into a divorce decree] is......
  • Lacke v. Lacke
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    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
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    ...court should seek to determine the parties' intent. Ebert v. Ebert, 320 S.C. 331, 465 S.E.2d 121 (Ct.App.1995); Mattox v. Cassady, 289 S.C. 57, 344 S.E.2d 620 (Ct.App.1986); see also Lindsay v. Lindsay, 328 S.C. 329, 491 S.E.2d 583 (Ct.App.1997) (explaining unambiguous marital agreements wi......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Clear Agreements as the Best Prevention
    • United States
    • South Carolina Bar South Carolina Lawyer No. 34-1, July 2022
    • Invalid date
    ...S.E.2d at 862. [13] Id. at 618, S.E.2d at 861. [14] Lacke v. Lacke, 362 S.C. 302, 309-10, 608 S.E.2d 147, 151 (2005); Mattox v. Cassady, 289 S.C. 57, 344 S.E.2d 620 (Ct. App. 1986) (stating courts may consider parol evidence to ascertain the intent of the parties where property settlement a......

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