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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.

To schedule a free consultation with a divorce attorney at Aldrich Legal Services, contact us.

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