When "When" Means the Same as "Until"

Genise and Donn (Mike) Schur Jr. married in 1986 and separated in 2010. They have three adult children. During their marriage, Genise was a stay-at-home mom while Mike provided the financial support for the family.

In 2010, Genise was sentenced to six years in prison for unlawful sexual relations with a minor. A few months later, Mike filed for divorce, and Genise responded by asking for temporary and long term spousal support. (Usually, spousal support is ordered for a specific period of time, but in long-term-marriage divorces, a court can retain jurisdiction on the issue and continue support until the party dies, remarries, etc.)

In 2012, while still serving her sentence, Genise was transported from prison to attend her divorce settlement conference. Mike and Genise reached an agreement, and the Judge recited it in open court making the agreement on the record.

The agreement stated in court divided the property, but stated the court would hear the issue of long-term spousal support when Genise was released from prison. Mike’s attorney wrote the Judgment of Dissolution based on the agreement recited in open court. However, instead of using the word “when” he used the word “until.” No one caught the error; both parties and their attorneys signed the document, and the court approved it.

A month before Genise’s release from prison, her attorney requested a hearing to determine the issue of long term spousal support. The hearing was set for three days after Genise’s scheduled release, but was continued twice for legitimate legal reasons. The hearing did not take place until three months after Genise’s release.

At the hearing, Mike argued that the court no longer had jurisdiction to hear the matter, because it only had jurisdiction until, Genise was released from prison. Once Genise was released, jurisdiction ended. Mike also argued (among other things), that even if the court had jurisdiction, Genise should not be entitled to spousal support because she was a convicted, registered sex offender. Conversely, Genise argued that the court did have jurisdiction and she should be entitled to spousal support. Since she was a convicted sex offender, she could not get a job and support herself, so Mike should have to continue to support her.

The court agreed with Mike that it only had jurisdiction until Genise was released from prison, and now that she was released, the jurisdiction ended.

Genise appealed, and the Appellate Court reversed stating that if the final written agreement of the parties did not contain the actual intent of the parties, the agreement could be changed to reflect the original agreement. However, there needed to be documentation to show the true intent of the parties. Here the original recited agreement was a court record and clearly showed the intent of the parties that the issue of long term spousal support would be dealt with after Genise was released from prison.

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