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DIVORCE 69: Trial court enforcement of marriage settlement agreement drafted prior to divorce.

The parties married in 1982. T is a dentist with his own dental practice and D works for the dental practice as the office manager and bookkeeper.

During their marriage, the parties accumulated several major assets: (1) the dental practice; (2) the building in which the dental practice is located; (3) the marital home; and (4) retirement accounts. The parties also own vehicles, as well as miscellaneous personal property and household goods. And the parties have various debts, including a line of credit on the marital home and a mortgage on the dental-practice building.

Settlement Agreement

The parties had several meetings about dissolving their marriage and dividing their assets. These conversations culminated in a marriage settlement agreement, drafted by D, which the parties both signed in June 2016.

In January 2019, T filed for divorce. D then moved to enforce the marital settlement agreement between the parties. T opposed the motion, asserting that (1) it was currently financially impossible for him to comply with the portion of the agreement requiring him to pay spousal support to D, particularly in light of his age, and (2) that the agreement was illusory because one of its terms provided for the split of equity following the sale of the dental practice building, but D could not guarantee that T would receive any proceeds from the sale of the building where the dental practice was located.

Evidentiary Hearing

Following an evidentiary hearing at which both parties testified, the trial court denied D’s motion to enforce the settlement agreement. Briefly summarized, the trial court appeared to conclude that the agreement should not be enforced because (1) the term about selling the dental-practice building was illusory, (2) the agreement contained ambiguous terms, (3) the agreement contained terms that were impossible to perform, and (4) T signed the agreement under duress.

Enforcement of Settlement Agreement

Generally, contracts between consenting adults are enforced according to the terms to which the parties themselves agreed. The trial court was bound to enforce the settlement agreement in the absence of fraud, duress, mutual mistake, or severe stress.

On the record, T failed to show duress. T conceded in the trial court, and he again concedes on appeal that he did not sign the contract under duress. To the extent the trial court concluded T was subject to duress, the trial court erred. And ultimately, in the absence of fraud, duress, mutual mistake, or severe stress, the trial court erred by refusing to enforce the settlement agreement.

Assistance with Michigan Divorces

Do you believe that divorce is the only option left for your marriage? Our focus is on resolving your dispute as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, while fully safeguarding your rights. If your divorce is not resolved before trial, we have the courtroom skills and experience to help you obtain the best possible outcome.

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FAMILY LAW 88: The trial court found that the children did not have an established custodial environment with defendant because, before the separation, he did not have a large role in the children’s lives.

The trial court credited plaintiff’s testimony that, before the parties’ separation, defendant spent minimal time helping to care for the children, so its finding that the children would not have looked to defendant for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort during that time was not against the great weight of the evidence.

REAL ESTATE 89: RM had not included any language in the deed providing that the property was a joint tenancy with full rights of survivorship, the property instead became a tenancy in common.

RM drafted the deed without seeking counsel and mistakenly believed that, if either she or FK died, the property would fully pass to the surviving tenant. FK’s will provided that if his wife predeceased him—which she did—the personal representative of his estate should sell any residual property that he owned and divide the cash proceeds equally among his surviving children.

FAMILY LAW 83: A trial court can terminate a parent’s rights and permit a stepparent to adopt a child.

A trial court has discretion to terminate a parent’s rights and permit a stepparent to adopt a child when the conditions of MCL 710.51(6) are met. MCL 710.51(6)(b) requires the petitioner to establish that the other parent had the ability to visit, contact, or communicate with the children, and substantially failed or neglected to do so for a period of two years.

PROBATE 53: The trust agreement included an Incontestability Provision.

A settlor’s intent is to be carried out as nearly as possible. Generally, in terrorem clauses are valid and enforceable. However, a provision in a trust that purports to penalize an interested person for contesting the trust or instituting another proceeding relating to the trust shall not be given effect if probable cause exists for instituting a proceeding contesting the trust or another proceeding relating to the trust.

FAMILY LAW 82: Court stated it would terminate the personal protection order (PPO) after the parties present documentation of the initiation of the divorce proceedings.

However, the trial court concluded that these matters should, in fact, be in the province and the jurisdiction of the Family Division and in that respect, having issued a personal protection order, the Court stated it would terminate the personal protection order after the parties present documentation of the initiation of the divorce proceedings.

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