You are at a hearing of your family law case (whether it be a divorce or custody case). This could be a temporary orders hearing (setting the status quo of the case) or another interim hearing or maybe it is the final hearing. Despite what stage of the case you might be in, most judges encourage the parties and their attorneys to speak before an actual hearing is held. This is because most judges encourage settlement and rightfully so for many reasons.
Only you and the other party know your case the best and this is because it is your life. Thus, if anyone should decide what should happen in the case, it should be the parties. Also, agreements are also in the interest of judicial economy. Meaning, the court’s docket is freed up for those cases that are truly contentious and for those issues that cannot be settled without the guidance of a judge. As well, the parties save money with agreements rather than having knockdown, drag out hearings. Unfortunately, given all of the positive factors some parties are not able to reach agreements.
However, you are among the few and you are able to reach an agreement. On that day, you do not have any specific orders for the judge to sign. Rather, what typically happens is that you and the other party enter into a Rule 11 Agreement. This happens one of two ways–either your attorney or their attorney writes the agreement in full down on a piece of notebook paper and the parties and their attorneys sign. Or, the agreement is written down and both parties testify and the agreement is entered into the open record of the court with the court reporter transcribing. Many people think that the notebook paper or oral recitation of agreement is not very reassuring because it is not in a fancy, typed-up order with legal jargon. However, what most people do not understand is that you must do one or the other in order for the Rule 11 to be enforceable. That is, if you merely had an oral agreement and everyone left the courthouse, if at a later date the other side claims that they did not agree to what you are now claiming the agreement was on the court date, there is nothing you or your attorney can do about it.
In fact, Rule 11 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure states that “no agreement between attorneys or parties touching any suit is enforceable unless it is in writing, signed, and filed with the papers as part of the record, or is made in open court and entered of record.” Thus, you must either file the signed notebook paper encompassing all of the terms of your agreement or have your attorney read it into the record and commit both parties that this is in fact your agreement.
With respect to the terms of the agreement, you must include all material terms and the agreement must be clear and unambiguous. If you cannot agree upon certain terms or if any terms are left out, they are considered to still be contentious and will not be included by default. Thus, be sure that you and your attorney go over all of your goals beforehand on what you want to accomplish at the hearing and be sure that any document you sign or any agreement that you testify is in fact your agreement contains all of the terms that you want to cover. If all of the terms of the agreement are not contained in the agreement, then the Texarkana Court of Appeals in In Re Hallman held that the trial court has a duty to resolve those remaining issues.
If at any time you feel that you are no longer satisfied with the Rule 11 Agreement and its terms, you must notify your attorney and revoke your agreement before a judgment reflecting the Rule 11 is entered. That is, if your agreement is entered on the record and the Court approves the agreement and renders that the orders in the case (and enters a judgment reflecting that), then you will no longer be able to contest the agreement. In fact, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals in Clanin v. Clanin held that if a party is attempting to repudiate only after a judgment had been rendered, the agreement will be upheld and the party will not be permitted to contest it.
Contact your attorney at Guest & Gray, P.C. in Forney for further information on Rule 11 Agreements.