Articles Posted in Mediation

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“A scroll of a Divorce Decree, tied with a black ribbon on a mahogany desk, with a dead white rose buttonhole from the Wedding Day, with a black pen. Copy space..”

A Texas Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) must generally include language that it is not subject to revocation, be signed by each party, and be signed by the party’s attorney who is present at the time of execution. Tex. Fam. Code § 6.602(b). If the MSA meets these requirements, it is binding and the court must render a divorce decree adopting it. The judgment must be compliant with the agreement and must not substantively alter it. The parties may revise or repudiate the agreement before the divorce is rendered, unless the agreement is otherwise binding under another law. Tex. Fam. Code § 7.006.

In a recent case, a former wife appealed a divorce decree, arguing the court erred in rendering judgment on a settlement after she revoked her consent.  The parties had reached an agreement at mediation and signed an MSA, but only the husband’s attorney’s signature was on the document.

Wife Revokes Consent to MSA

The wife filed a revocation of consent and an objection to the entry of a final divorce decree. She argued the agreement was not valid without her counsel’s signature and was therefore revocable.

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Insurance agent checking policy documents in office.

When parties to a Texas divorce case enter into a mediated settlement agreement (“MSA”) that meets the statutory requirements, the MSA is generally binding and the divorce decree must adopt the agreement.  An MSA may not be enforceable, however, if it was procured by fraud or other dishonest means.

A wife recently challenged a divorce decree incorporating  an MSA that she asserted was procured by fraud. A divorce decree was issued in Dubai and both parties appealed.  The wife subsequently petitioned for divorce and to modify the Dubai court orders in Texas. During discovery in the Texas cases, the husband disclosed one bank account.

The parties signed an MSA that gave the wife half of a retirement account in the husband’s name, $94,000 in cash, and the real and personal property and accounts in her own name or possession. The husband received the other half of the retirement account, real property in Florida, and the real and personal property and accounts in his name or possession. The parties also agreed to cease discovery, except as to issues involving the child.

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iStock-1125625723Parties to a Texas suit affecting the parent-child relationship may enter into a mediated settlement agreement (“MSA”) to resolve one or more issues in their suit.  An MSA is binding if it prominently states in bold or underlined font or in capital letters that it is not subject to revocation, is signed by the parties, and is signed by the parties’ attorneys who are present at the execution. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.0071. When these requirements are met, a party is entitled to judgment on the MSA. Because an MSA is a contract, it is construed according to the contract-interpretation principles.  If an MSA is ambiguous, there is a fact issue of the intent of the parties. A Texas appeals court recently considered what should happen when an MSA included a discrepancy between the stated amount of child support and the calculation for determining child support.

Mother and Father Enter into Settlement Agreement

Following mediation, the parents entered into an MSA that included an attached handwritten page with a child-support calculation as well as four W-2s showing the wages the father earned.  The parties initialed each page of the MSA, but not the W-2s.

The MSA identified the father’s child-support obligation as $1,062.60 per month. The attachment stated that “child support is based on [the father’s] representation that he has no rental income and is calculated pursuant to the attached calculations and Exhibits.”

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divorce-property-fraudIn some cases, a party to a Texas divorce may agree to a settlement that seemingly has less-than-favorable terms.  For example, a party may agree to their spouse receiving property with a higher monetary value to ensure they receive property that has personal value to them. In a recent case, a husband alleged the wife committed “fraud by nondisclosure” by entering into a Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) without disclosing that the FBI had possession of certain items that were to be awarded to him under that MSA.

Husband is Awarded Certain Items He Believes are in Wife’s Possession

The parties agreed to the MSA, which gave the wife the personal property in her possession with certain exceptions, including a laptop and cell phone.  These items were explicitly given to the husband in the MSA. When the husband learned that the wife did not actually have possession of these items, he moved to set aside the MSA. The husband testified that the wife having those items was “a key factor” in his agreement to the MSA and the wife receiving so much joint property and custody of their child. He said the contents on those devices could have a negative effect on his military career. He had initially believed they were in the wife’s possession, because he had left them at the home and she had pictures and videos from the devices.  He had previously petitioned for those items to be returned to him, and the wife had subsequently asked to keep all of the possessions in the marital home.

Husband Moves to Set Aside MSA – But is Denied

After he signed the MSA, the husband learned the FBI had both devices. He moved to set aside the MSA in May, arguing the wife committed fraud when she failed to disclose that she did not have the devices. The trial court denied the motion, and the husband appealed.

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does-adultery-affect-alimony-in-idaho-1080x600-1In a Texas divorce, the court must divide the property in a just and right manner.  The requirement is that the division be equitable, but not necessarily equal. The Texas Supreme Court identified several factors courts should consider in Murff v. Murff. These factors include the parties’ physical conditions, education, financial condition, abilities, and ages.   A husband recently challenged a trial court’s division of the marital property following a mediated settlement agreement between the parties.

The parties married in 1999 and the wife initiated divorce proceedings in 2017.  Pursuant to a temporary order, the marital home was sold and about $500,000 in sales proceeds were put into an escrow account.  The court signed an agreed order allowing disbursement of an equal portion of the proceeds to pay each party’s divorce attorneys.  The rest of the proceeds was left in the escrow account.

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A Texas Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) that meets the statutory formalities is binding and the parties are entitled to a judgment upon it (i.e., the divorce decree must adopt it).  In a recent case, a husband challenged an order issued after the divorce decree that was intended to conform the decree with the terms of the MSA.

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parties executed an MSA. A couple of weeks after the court entered the final divorce decree, the wife moved for clarification of the MSA.  She alleged the final decree did not reflect the MSA, because it failed to confirm certain items as her separate property.  The trial court entered an order confirming those items as her separate property after a hearing.

The husband appealed.

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iStock-654702696For many Texans, their 401(k) plan is one of their largest assets – particularly for those who have made regular contributions throughout their career. On top of that, 401(k) plans often hold symbolic significance above and beyond their sheer dollar value. To some, they represent safety, security, and an end to the monotonous rat race. For others, they are a prize, a badge of honor earned after countless late nights at the office. However, no matter the role they play in your life, the thought of losing half of your hard-earned nest egg can be terrifying. This begs the question: how much of your 401(k) is actually at stake in a Texas divorce? Continue Reading ›

iStock-178756342When a divorcing couple reaches a Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) that meets the statutory requirements, the parties are entitled to a judgment on that MSA. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 6.602(c).  In some cases, however, things can change after the MSA is agreed upon. In a recent case, a wife challenged the way a court addressed changes arising after the MSA was executed, but before the final decree of divorce was entered.

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What is a Mediated Settlement Agreement?

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A mediated settlement agreement (“MSA”) in a Texas divorce is binding if it meets certain requirements.  It must state that it is not subject to revocation in bold letters, capital letters or underlined text.  It must also be signed by each party and the party’s attorney, if present. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.602.  Some Texas courts have held that an MSA may be unenforceable if it is obtained by fraud, duress or coercion.

A husband recently challenged an MSA, partly on the grounds that he allegedly signed it under duress.

The parties had been married since 1981.  Some of the property acquired during the marriage was held by a limited partnership in which the parties owned a 95% interest.  In August 2017, the husband was arrested after the wife reported he had threatened her with a firearm.  The wife filed for divorce the very next day.

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