Mediated Settlement Agreements “More Binding than Contracts”
Posted on May 22, 2012 by Jimmy Verner
The Texas Family Code includes several dispute-resolution methods. Among them are arbitration, collaborative law, and mediation.
When a divorce case is resolved by mediation, the parties and their attorneys sign a Mediated Settlement Agreement. A Mediated Settlement Agreement cannot be revoked if it provides “in a prominently displayed statement that is in boldfaced type or capital letters or underlined.” Tex. Fam. Code § 6.602(b)(1). Toler v. Sanders, No. 01-11-00126-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [1st Dist.] May 17, 2012, n.p.h.).
The Family Code continues:
If a mediated settlement agreement meets the requirements of this section, a party is entitled to judgment on the mediated settlement agreement notwithstanding Rule 11, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, or another rule of law.
Tex. Fam. Code § 6.602(c).
Houston’s First District Court of Appeals applied these Code provisions to a Mediated Settlement Agreement. The husband claimed that the Mediated Settlement Agreement was supposed to divide one of his two retirement funds equally but that he was supposed to receive 100% of the other retirement fund.
The Mediated Settlement Agreement stated: “Parties agree to award wife 50% of the community property of [husband’s] Rail Road Retirement benefits, with a stop date of September 27, 2010.”
The trial court signed a judgment based on the language of the Mediated Settlement Agreement.
The Houston Court affirmed the trial court: It held that a Mediated Settlement Agreement is more binding than a basic written contract because, except when a party has procured the settlement through fraud or coercion, nothing either party does will modify or void the agreement once everyone has signed it. (quoting In the Matter of the Marriage of Joyner, 196 S.W.3d 883 (Tex. App. – Texarkana 2006, pet. denied).
Even though the husband claimed that the Mediated Settlement was ambiguous and that there was a mistake about its terms, the Mediated Settlement Agreement was clear on its face and thus was enforced to divide both retirement accounts equally between the parties.