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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

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