Hirschfeld v. Machinist
As reiterated in the 2012 case of Allen v. Allen, "[I]t is well established that a separation agreement, incorporated by reference into a judgment of dissolution, is to be regarded and construed as a contract." The plaintiff, Caroline Hirschfeld, and the defendant, Robert Machinist, entered into a separation agreement which was incorporated by reference into the judgment dissolving their marriage. The agreement provided that the defendant would pay alimony and child support to the plaintiff according to a certain formula and, in paragraph 3.5, that "[f]or any year for which the [defendant] pays less than the maximum amount that could be due to the [plaintiff], based upon compensation up to $1,500,000 of gross earned income, the [defendant] shall provide to the [plaintiff] . . . any and all W-2 and 1099 forms, or other documents to corroborate the [defendant's] earned income . . . " The plaintiff filed a motion for contempt alleging that, based on the documents provided, the defendant had underpaid alimony for the 2007 tax year and refused to provide the documents required by their agreement. The trial court granted the plaintiff's motion for contempt and ordered the defendant to pay $36,959 in unpaid alimony plus interest and $17,731.97 in attorneys' fees but disagreed with the plaintiff that any documents beyond the defendant's tax filings needed to be disclosed. The plaintiff appealed claiming that the court incorrectly interpreted paragraph 3.5 of the agreement and, in doing so, improperly restricted the plaintiff's ability to obtain documents relating to the defendant's earned income. The Appellate Court agreed and reversed the judgment. The language of paragraph 3.5 expressly indicates that the parties intended to require the disclosure of those documents necessary to corroborate the amount of gross earned income reported by the defendant. If, as the trial court concluded, paragraph 3.5 entitled the plaintiff to obtain only the defendant's tax forms, the plaintiff's review would be restricted to determining whether the defendant made a mathematical error in calculating the sum of alimony due. Although the trial court was correct that such a limitation would provide an expedient resolution to any dispute between the parties regarding unpaid alimony, the agreement clearly and unambiguously contemplates a more thorough review.