Per Texas Family Code section 6.602(b), a mediated settlement agreement is binding on the parties to a divorce if the MSA meets certain conditions. The MSA must state that it is not subject to revocation, in either bold-faced type, capital letters or italics; must be signed by each party to the agreement; and must be signed by the party’s attorney, if the party had one, and the attorney was present when the agreement was signed.
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Blaming the Lawyer
In In re Coppedge, No. 11-13-00166-CV (Tex. App. – Eastland Sept. 18, 2014) (mem. op.), the parties settled their divorce case at mediation. They signed an MSA. A few days later, the parties and their attorneys attended a hearing for the purpose of having a divorce decree signed. The divorce decree incorporated the terms of the MSA. But at the hearing, the husband’s lawyer asked leave of court to withdraw from representing the husband. The husband told the court that his attorney had coerced him into signing the MSA. The court allowed the lawyer to withdraw and reset the hearing.
The Husband’s Claims
At the reset hearing, the husband appeared with a new lawyer. The husband claimed:
- He didn’t understand the terms of the MSA at the time he signed it.
- Although he signed the MSA, it didn’t have any attachments or exhibits when he signed it.
- His attorney didn’t explain the meaning of the MSA.
- His attorney didn’t tell him he had the right to refuse to sign the MSA and go to trial.
- He signed only a blank piece of paper.
- His attorney “threw it in from of him and said sign it.”
No Fraud, Duress or Coercion
The trial court did not find any fraud, duress or coercion. The trial court had already heard from his former lawyer. Further, the parties’ son testified that after the mediation, his father called him to explain the terms of the MSA. The father told his son that the father didn’t think the agreement was fair but it was what he wanted. Trial courts, as fact-finders, choose what evidence to believe and what to disbelieve. This court believed that the husband fully understood the terms of the MSA.
Mediated Settlement Agreements Are Binding on the Court
Unless procured through fraud, duress or coercion, an MSA is binding on a trial court. The Eastland Court of Appeals explained:
If a mediated settlement agreement meets the formal statutory requirements, a trial court may not go behind the signed agreement to evaluate its merits but must render judgment on the parties’ agreement. Milner v. Milner, 361 S.W.3d 615, 616 (Tex. 2012). “The plain meaning of Section 6.602 could hardly be more clear: a Section 6.602 agreement is binding, i.e., irrevocable, and a party to one is entitled to judgment based on the agreement.” Cayan, 38 S.W.3d at 165.
Accordingly, the Eastland Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision to enforce the MSA.