The Second Department, reversing Family Court, determined the settlement agreement was ambiguous. The meaning of the term “gross earned income” in the agreement affected the child support calculation. The court should have held a hearing to ascertain the intent of the parties. Instead, the court deferred to the definition of “income” in the Child Support Standards Act (CSSA):
“A stipulation of settlement entered into by parties to a divorce proceeding constitutes a contract between them subject to the principles of contract interpretation” … . “Where the intention of the parties is clearly and unambiguously set forth, effect must be given to the intent as indicated by the language used” … . “A court may not write into a contract conditions the parties did not insert or, under the guise of construction, add or excise terms, and it may not construe the language in such a way as would distort the apparent meaning” … . “Whether a writing is ambiguous is a matter of law for the court, and the proper inquiry is whether the agreement on its face is reasonably susceptible of more than one interpretation” … . In making this determination, the court also should examine the entire contract and consider the relation of the parties and the circumstances under which the contract was executed … . Where a contract is ambiguous, “the court may consider the construction placed on the contract by the parties to help ascertain the meaning” … . “The role of the court is to determine the intent and purpose of the stipulation based on the examination of the record as a whole” … .
Here, the term “gross earned income,” in the context of the parties’ stipulation, is ambiguous … . However, instead of deferring to the CSSA’s definition of “income,” the Support Magistrate should have held a hearing to determine the parties’ intent in including the word “earned” … . Matter of Abramson v Hasson, 2020 NY Slip Op 03418, Second Dept 6-17-20