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DIVORCE 27: Settlement reached at mediation must be signed to be binding, or recorded by audio or video.

In this case, plaintiff contends that the trial court forced her to comply with an unenforceable settlement agreement.

Plaintiff first contends that the trial court erred by forcing the parties (or, more precisely, her) to accept a settlement agreement that was never signed, and the terms of which were never placed on the record.

The legal principles applicable to the construction and interpretation of contracts applies with equal force to our review of settlement agreements, which are of course also contracts. A valid, enforceable contract requires an offer, an acceptance that is unambiguous and in strict conformance with the offer, and mutual assent or a meeting of the minds on all essential terms.

Trial courts are required to enforce unambiguous contracts according to their terms but are prohibited from entering orders pursuant to the consent of the parties which deviate in any material respect from the agreement of the parties. An agreement or consent between the parties or their attorneys respecting the proceedings in an action is not binding unless it was made in open court, or unless evidence of the agreement is in writing, subscribed by the party against whom the agreement is offered or by that party’s attorney. MCR 2.507(G).

With respect to certain domestic relations matters, MCR 3.216(H)(8) provides that if a settlement is reached as a result of mediation, to be binding, the terms of that settlement must be reduced to a signed writing by the parties or acknowledged by the parties on an audio or video recording.

There is no dispute that the terms of any agreement reached at mediation were never reduced to a signed writing or recorded by audio or video, as required by MCR 3.216(H)(8). Consequently, any purported mediation-based agreement could not, absent any other valid proof of a settlement, be the basis for the judgment. However, at the September 27, 2017 hearing, held one day after the mediation, the parties placed a partial agreement on the record, in compliance with MCR 2.507(G). The trial court noted; the remaining issues required further resolution by the court.

The fact that this agreement as to custody and parenting time did not resolve all the disputes between the parties, with the court recognizing that some other little things purportedly agreed to at mediation were going to be added to the judgment, does not render the partial agreement invalid. Plaintiff is entitled to a trial on these remaining, unresolved issues.

It is important to remember that decrees regarding child support, child custody, visitation and spousal support (alimony) are not always final.

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FAMILY LAW 37: Referee recommended against changing legal custody or parenting time.

Plaintiff requested sole legal custody, arguing that she and defendant had difficulty co-parenting and that defendant would not agree to medical treatment for the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, need for orthodontic work, and need for vision testing and glasses. Plaintiff also requested an alternating weekly or biweekly schedule during the summer, which would increase her overall parenting time.

REAL ESTATE 40: Tax Tribunal denied petitioner’s claim of a principal residence exemption (PRE).

MCL 211.7cc(2) provides that an owner of property can claim the PRE by filing an affidavit that must state that the property is owned and occupied as a principal residence by that owner of the property on the date that the affidavit is signed and shall state that the owner has not claimed a substantially similar exemption, deduction, or credit on property in another state.

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REAL ESTATE 38: Plaintiff fails to make land contract payments.

The land contract stated that T Company sold real property to plaintiff. The land contract further stated that if plaintiff failed to make a monthly payment, T Company could execute the quitclaim deed, thereby terminating plaintiff’s rights to the real property under the land contract.

CONTRACTS 6: Do you understand the clauses in your Purchase Agreement?

The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary disposition, concluding that the claims against the realty companies were barred by the valid release contained in the purchase agreement and that the claims against sellers were required to be resolved in arbitration because they fell within the scope of the arbitration clause in the purchase agreement.

DIVORCE 29: Spousal support in gross is non-modifiable, whereas periodic is subject to modification.

As the name implies, periodic spousal support payments are made on a periodic basis. Periodic spousal support payments are subject to any contingency, such as death or remarriage of a spouse, whereas spousal support in gross is paid as a lump sum or a definite sum to be paid in installments. In addition, one major difference between the two types of spousal support is modifiability. Spousal support in gross is non-modifiable, whereas periodic spousal support is subject to modification pursuant to MCL 555.28.1.

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PROBATE 28: Probate court enters a protective order providing support for a community spouse.

A probate court’s consideration of the couple’s circumstances cannot involve an assumption that the institutionalized spouse should receive 100% free medical care under Medicaid or an assumption that a community spouse is entitled to maintain his or her standard of living. Medicaid is a need-based program, and a Medicaid recipient is obligated to contribute to his or her care.

REAL ESTATE 36: Plaintiff argued that her claim was not time-barred because it did not accrue until the grandmother’s death.

Plaintiff’s interest in the subject property is best characterized as a remainder estate, because her right to possession of the property was postponed until the occurrence of a specific contingency, that being the deaths of the grandparents. Plaintiff pursued this action within the 15-year limitation period; accordingly, this action is not barred by MCL 600.5801(4).

LITIGATION 6: The terms of the agreement prevails over the course of performance.

The trial court determined that under the UCC, the express terms of the parties’ agreements prevailed over the course of their performance and course of dealing. Although a course of performance may show that parties have waived a specific contractual term under MCL 440.1303(6), the statute does not similarly provide that a course of dealing may demonstrate waiver.

PROBATE 27: Petitioner filed a petition for mental-health treatment.

In support of the allegations, petitioner attached clinical certificates from a physician and a psychiatrist who observed respondent at the hospital. Both doctors diagnosed respondent with bipolar disorder, determined that she displayed a likelihood of injuring herself and that she did not understand the need for treatment, and recommended a course of treatment that consisted of 60 days of hospitalization and 90 days of outpatient care.

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