THE STATE OF
In The Court of Appeals
Lyn Cherry Stribling as Personal Representative of Joseph Neal Stribling, Respondent,
Linda Diane Stribling, Appellant.
Kellum W. Allen, Family Court Judge
Opinion No. 4129
Heard April 6, 2006 – Filed June 26, 2006
Melissa J. Copeland, and Catherine H. Kennedy, of
Columbia, for Appellant.
Robert K. Whitney, of Seneca, for Respondent.
BEATTY, J.: Lyn Cherry Stribling (Widow), as personal representative of Joseph Neal Stribling (Husband), brought an action against Linda Dianne Stribling (Wife) seeking a court order requiring Wife to waive her claim to Husband’s Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) pursuant to a Divorce Decree. Wife appeals the family court’s order, arguing the court erred in holding Wife waived interest in non-employment related retirement accounts and erred in holding any waiver applied to her expectancy interest. We affirm.
Husband and Wife married on December 22, 1973. During their marriage, Husband established two IRAs: a Charles Schwab IRA in December of 1993 and a TD Waterhouse IRA in March of 1998. Husband named Wife as primary beneficiary for both IRAs; a charity was also named as a five percent beneficiary for the Schwab IRA.
In February 2003, Husband and Wife divorced pursuant to a Divorce Decree. The Decree incorporated the parties’ settlement agreement. The Decree and agreement awarded ownership of both IRAs to Husband. The Decree also provided, in relevant part:
The parties acknowledge that each party is retaining his or her retirement accounts accumulated through their respective employment. The parties further acknowledge they are waiving any interest they may have in the other party’s retirement. As a result, the parties agree to sign any and all documentation necessary to fully waive any right or entitlement he or she may have had in the retirement of the other. The parties will fully cooperate in securing the necessary waivers, releases, QDRO’s or other required documents for the signature of the waiving party.
Not long after the parties’ divorce, Husband married Widow. Husband died on July 25, 2004. At the time of Husband’s death, Wife was the named beneficiary of the Waterhouse IRA and the named beneficiary of ninety-five percent of the Schwab IRA. On March 16, 2005, Widow, as personal representative of Husband’s estate, brought an action against Wife seeking a court order requiring Wife to waive her claim to Husband’s IRAs pursuant to the Divorce Decree.
A hearing was held on May 3, 2005. By order, the family court ruled that the “language of the settlement is clear and sufficiently comprehensive so as to establish [Wife] had waived or relinquished any interest, including expectancy interest, in [Husband’s] retirement.” As a result, the court ordered Wife to sign documentation necessary to waive any rights or entitlement to the IRAs. This appeal followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
“An action to construe a written contract is an action at law.”
S. Atl. Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Middleton, 349 S.C. 77, 80, 562 S.E.2d 482, 484 (Ct. App. 2002), aff’d as modified, 356 S.C. 444, 590 S.E.2d 27 (2003). Whether a contract’s language is ambiguous is a question of law.
I. Waiver of Interest in Husband’s IRAs
Wife argues the family court erred in holding the Divorce Decree clearly established Wife waived her interest in the Husband’s IRAs. Specifically, Wife asserts the Divorce Decree only establishes waiver of interest in employment related retirement accounts, and the Decree does not apply to the IRAs because they are non-employment retirement accounts. We disagree.
The construction of an agreement is a matter of contract law. McDuffie v. McDuffie, 313 S.C. 397, 399, 438 S.E.2d 239, 241 (1993). “In construing a contract, the primary objective is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the parties.”
S. Atl. Fin. Servs., 349 S.C. at 80, 562 S.E.2d at 484. “The parties’ intention must, in the first instance, be derived from the language of the contract.” Jacobs v. Serv. Merch.
We find the language of the Decree unambiguously provides Wife waived any interest in all of Husband’s retirement accounts. The relevant language of the Decree states that each of the parties retain their “retirement accounts accumulated through their respective employment.” The Decree then provides that the parties “further acknowledge they are waiving any interest they may have in the other party’s retirement.” (emphasis added). The inclusion of the word “further” indicates that, in addition to each party retaining their respective employment-related retirement accounts, each party waives any interest in any of the other party’s retirement. The Decree does not limit this waiver of interest to employment related retirement accounts, but rather simply states the waiver applies to the “other party’s retirement.” This interpretation is further substantiated by the settlement agreement which specifically lists both IRAs in Husband’s column. Accordingly, after looking at the Decree as a whole, we find the trial court did not err in finding the Decree was clearly and sufficiently comprehensive to establish Wife waived any interest in Husband’s retirement, including Husband’s IRAs.
II. Expectancy Interest
Wife next contends the family court erred in finding any waiver of interest in Husband’s IRAs encompassed a waiver of an expectancy interest in the IRAs. We disagree.
In Estate of Revis, this court held:
[W]hen a separation agreement does not specifically address a life insurance policy in which one spouse has an expectancy as a named beneficiary, general language of release . . . is not controlling on the issue. Where the insured spouse maintains ownership and control of the policy, including the right to change beneficiaries, the question of whether or not the agreement extinguishes the right of the named beneficiary to claim the benefits upon the death of the estranged spouse depends upon the intention of the insured spouse as determined by the facts of each case.
In Rushton v. Lott, this court, quoting the above language in Estate of Revis, held a separation agreement may be interpreted to preclude a beneficiary’s interest in an annuity even though the agreement did not specifically mention the annuity. Rushton v. Lott, 330 S.C. 418, 420, 499 S.E.2d 222, 224 (Ct. App. 1998). The separation agreement in Rushton provided: “Each party shall retain exclusive ownership and possession of their respective savings, checking or retirement accounts now in their possession.”
In this case, we find the waiver contained in the separation agreement is controlling because the agreement specifically addresses the IRAs. The agreement provides the parties waive “any interest they may have in the other party’s retirement.” (emphasis added). The agreement then clearly lists the IRAs in Husband’s column and provides “Husband will receive all assets in his column.” Thus, the agreement specifically references the IRAs providing the expectancy interest and is accompanied by a clear waiver of any interest, including present or future interests. Accordingly, we find the family court did not err in finding Wife waived her expectancy interest in Husband’s IRAs.
Based on the foregoing, we find the family court did not err in finding Wife waived her interest in Husband’s IRAs. The decision of the court is accordingly
SHORT, and WILLIAMS, JJ., concur.
 The Decree provided that “[t]he parties have agreed to a division of their assets as set out in [their settlement agreement]” and “Wife will receive all assets in her column, and Husband will receive all assets in his column.” The settlement agreement listed both IRA accounts in Husband’s column.