In this plenary action in contract brought by a wife who seeks a money judgment for arrears in support payments due her under a separation agreement, the overriding issue is the proper interpretation of a provision of the agreement. Section 23 of the agreement specifically declares that the agreement is to survive any subsequent divorce decree obtained by either party, and it further provides that although the custody, spousal support and maintenance provisions of the separation agreement may be incorporated by reference into such a divorce decree, they are not to be merged within it. Some time following the separation, the husband obtained a bilateral Mexican divorce decree which incorporated those sections of the separation agreement but specifically declared that they were to survive the decree. Eventually, the wife deemed it necessary to seek an order of support in Family Court, Nassau County, for the $200 per week support and maintenance provided in the divorce decree pursuant to the terms of the separation agreement (see Family Ct. Act, § 422, subd. (b); § 461, subd. (b); § 466, subd. (c)). The husband countered with a request that the amount of support and maintenance be decreased, and, following issuance of several orders not pertinent to this appeal, Family Court ultimately decreased the amount of support and maintenance awarded by the divorce decree to $95 a week and issued a support order for that amount.
The wife then commenced this action in Supreme Court, Nassau County, seeking a money judgment in the amount of the difference between the support and maintenance payments established by the separation agreement and the reduced amount provided by the Family Court order. In response, the husband contended that pursuant to section 24 of the separation agreement, the modification by Family Court of the amount of support and maintenance due under the divorce decree served also as a modification of the separation agreement provisions pertaining to support and maintenance. Following a nonjury trial, Supreme Court ruled in favor of the husband, concluding that pursuant to section 24 of the separation agreement, the modification of the divorce decree by Family Court did in fact cause a similar modification of the separation agreement.