Christian v. ChristianAnnotate this Case
In 2006, appellant Carla Christian and appellee Ben Christian, Jr. signed a Separation Agreement. The agreement was approved by a trial court in 2008. Carla filed a complaint for divorce in 2013. By October 2014, she moved for partial summary judgment, asking the trial court to rule that Paragraph VII of the Agreement entitled her to one-half of Ben’s retirement, 401(k) and other employment benefits as valued on the date of divorce. In early 2015, the trial court denied the motion, calling it an attempt to replace an “or” with an “and” in the language of the Separation Agreement. The trial court found no ambiguity in Paragraph VII and did not consider any parol evidence Carla sought to introduce to explain the paragraph further. The court later reconsidered its prior holding, and ruled that Carla was entitled to one-half of Ben’s 401(k) and retirement pension plan or one-half of his other employment benefits. Months later, the court issued a “clarifying” order, holding that Carla was “entitled to choose from the 401(k) or other employment benefits.” Carla appealed once the final divorce decree was entered. The Supreme Court reversed in part, vacated in part and affirmed in part. The Court reversed the trial court’s ruling that the date of valuation under Paragraph VII was the date of the Separation Agreement rather than the date of the divorce. The Court vacated the trial court’s ruling that the Paragraph was unambiguous “as a matter of law,” because it found two viable interpretations of it. The Court affirmed the trial court in all other respects, and remanded this case for further proceedings.