The spouses signed a Marriage Contract (i.e., prenuptial agreement) on July 17, 1992, and married about one week later in Quebec. The Marriage Contract selected a “separate property regime pursuant to the provisions of the Civil Code of the Province of Quebec.” Under the Civil Code “each spouse had the administration, enjoyment and free disposal of all of his or her property.” In 2009, the parties (and their 7 year old daughter) relocated to Florida, where Husband purchased a family home using his separate assets. About 8 years later, the couple moved into two neighboring condos, titled in the Husband’s trust. In 2019, the Wife filed for dissolution, including equitable distribution of marital assets under Florida Law. The condos and the family home were both listed for sale by Husband. The Husband requested that the parties’ Marriage Contract apply. The Wife denied that it controlled because of their domicile in Florida (or, alternatively, the Quebec patrimony rules should apply with the same effect as Florida law). Later, the parties stipulated that the Quebec patrimony rules did not apply because they were not residing in Quebec, and that the Marriage Contract was valid and enforceable.
After the stipulations and hearing, including expert witnesses on Quebec law, the court narrowed its focus to decide whether the Quebec Civil Code authorizes “any court in any jurisdiction other than Quebec, to utilize its own laws-insofar as they are reasonably similar-to protect the effects of marriage that are guaranteed by the Civil Code of Quebec and were plainly contemplated by the parties by signing a Marriage Contract and relying upon the laws of Quebec during the pendency of their marriage.” In other words, if the patrimony laws would apply if they were living in Quebec, why shouldn’t reasonably similar provisions in Florida law apply since they are living in Florida.
The trial court concluded that the purpose of the Quebec Civil Code would be to utilize Florida law to protect the effects of the marriage, and therefore the court looked at those parts in the Florida equitable distribution statute that aligned with the Family Patrimony Articles in the Quebec Civil Code, and determined the proceeds from the sale of the condos and family home were “Family Patrimony” subject to equitable distribution. The Husband appealed.
Florida courts apply the Scudder conflicts rules. In other words, if the place of making a contract and the place of performing a contract are not the same, then the place in which it was made shall govern matters of execution, interpretation, and validity. Generally, Florida courts enforce contractual choice-of-law provisions, unless enforcing the chosen forum’s law would contravene strong Florida public policy. Quebec is a civil law jurisdiction, where lawmaking is exclusively in the purview of the legislature. The parties executed a Marriage Contract with a clear reference to a portion of Quebecois law. They further stipulated that the other provisions in Quebec’s civil code were inapplicable. There was therefore no need to try to approximate the effects of the family patrimony articles from Quebec within Florida law.