Mediated Settlement Agreements: Enforceable, Notwithstanding Another Rule of Law?

You are in the middle of a divorce or custody case and you attended mediation with the other party in which you successfully settled the issues. Upon doing so, you signed a mediated settlement agreement. You think that the case is over and you leave feeling somewhat relieved not having to fight anymore. However, issues could still arise. The question is whether those issues or arguments will be successful. Needless to say, you will need to fight them to ensure that the MSA, your agreement that you worked so hard for, will remain in effect and be enforced by the court.

Mediated Settlement Agreements (MSAs) are classified as binding contracts between the parties as long as it satisfies certain requirements. In fact, Texas Family Code Section 153.0071(d) states that “a mediated settlement agreement is binding on the parties if the agreement” provides in large, bold, underlined lettering that the agreement cannot be revoked; is signed by all parties to agreement; and is signed by all party’s attorneys. You may think that if you have all of this met that you would not have to deal with any further issues. Unfortunately, this is a misunderstanding. If the other party is not happy with the MSA and the trial court’s enforcement of it, then they can appeal that decision. This is when you must look further into the statute, and it seems as though you are still protected. That is, Section153.0071 (e) states that “If the mediated settlement agreement meets the requirements in (d), then a party is entitled to a judgment notwithstanding another rule of law.” Thus, this means that if you satisfy the previous mentioned requirements, then this agreement is enforceable despite another rule of law such as contract law.

An example of where an MSA can be attacked is in a recent opinion from the Dallas 5th District Court of Appeals in In the Interest of C.H.C. and S.M.C., Children where a wife and husband entered into a MSA for the modification suit. However, after the trial court enforced the MSA and ruled on the remaining issues (which can be done according to case law and this Court), the wife was not happy. Thus, she appealed and argued on several issues that the MSA was not enforceable under contract law. In fact, she asserted such contractual defenses as absence of consideration, failure of consideration, mutual mistake, no meeting of the minds, missing terms, and ambiguity. The Court held that it will not make a decision on whether any of these defenses apply to an agreement under 153.0071. Rather, the Court addressed each defense and found the arguments to be wanting and wrong.

You can never ensure that the other party will not continue to fight you on the case (if they have the money, they most likely will if they are not happy with the outcome). However, mediations are still very helpful and this case reinforces that–if you have an MSA that meets all of the requirements and is enforceable, then a court is going to uphold it. This is why so many courts still encourage mediations as they do resolve so many cases. And even if the other party is not happy with the resolution in the MSA, this Court makes it clear that it will be incredibly difficult to change or avoid the MSA.

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