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Enforcing an Unsigned Divorce Settlement Agreement

Posted on : December 17, 2016, By:  Christopher Hildebrand
Enforcing an Unsigned Divorce Settlement

Enforcing an Unsigned Divorce Settlement Agreement

When spouses decide to divorce, they can ask a court to divide their property or they can negotiate an agreement themselves. Divorces are usually faster, cheaper and less hostile when a couple comes to an agreement between themselves, and Arizona courts accept negotiated settlement agreements if it appears that neither spouse was pushed into signing. If couples reconcile after they reach a property settlement agreement, some parts of the earlier divorce agreement may still be valid.

In the case of Muchesko v. Muchesko, 191 Ariz. 265, 955 P.2d 21 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1997), the Arizona Court of Appeals had to determine the impact of a divorce settlement agreement between Mrs. Muchesko and Mr. Muchesko. The couple lived in Pennsylvania. They separated in 1990 and began discussing how to divide their property. Mr. Muchesko proposed an agreement that Mrs. Muchesko rejected. She had her attorney prepare another agreement more favorable to herself that Mr. Muchesko signed and returned to her in 1991. Mrs. Muchesko filed for divorce in Pennsylvania.

Implementing an Unsigned Divorce Settlement.

Implementing an Unsigned Divorce Settlement.

In June 1994, the couple dismissed the Pennsylvania divorce action and moved to Arizona where they lived as man and wife. However, this only lasted until November 1994, when they again separated and Mrs. Muchesko filed for divorce. She argued that the 1991 divorce agreement was not a binding agreement because she never signed it and that their property should be divided according to Arizona law. The Superior Court agreed and divided the property. Mrs. Muchesko received much more than she would have under the 1991 agreement.

The Court of Appeals reversed. It ruled that the 1991 divorce agreement was a valid agreement and that the fact that the couple got back together would not impact those parts of the agreement that had already been performed.

A Divorce Settlement Agreement May Be Binding Without Signature

Under Arizona law, a settlement agreement is valid if there is an offer that is accepted, benefits received on both sides, a clear statement of the obligations of each spouse, and agreement by both of them. The fact that one person does not sign the agreement doesn’t decide the issue. Arizona courts look at all the surrounding circumstances to decide whether the two had reached a settlement agreement they both considered binding.

The Court of Appeals noted that Mrs. Muchesko’s attorney wrote up the agreement at her request. It said that when she sent it to husband, the writing was an offer to settle the property issues. When he signed and returned it to her, it was an acceptance of the offer.

The Appellate Court next looked at whether the couple acted consistently with the agreement. The agreement required Mr. Muchesko to pay wife $1000 in reimbursement for earnest money she lost on a house in Hartford and that, after signing the agreement, Mr. Muchesko sent her a check for that amount. The agreement required him to pay Mrs. Muchesko $50,000.00 for her interest in another property called the Hermitage house, and that after signing the agreement, he paid her a total of $50,000.00, writing “divorce settlement paid in full” on the final check. The Court also noted that Mrs. Muchesko had signed over the deed to the Hermitage house and the couple’s joint Schwab account to the husband. These were also terms of the settlement agreement.

Since both Mrs. Muchesko and Mr. Muchesko fulfilled the important terms of the settlement agreement, the Court of Appeals found that a binding settlement agreement existed.

Enforcing an Unsigned Divorce Settlement.

Enforcing an Unsigned Divorce Settlement.

Arizona Courts Enforce Settlement Agreement Performed Even If Couple Reconciles

If a couple gets back together, it can impact any divorce settlement agreement they made. This depends on the couple’s intentions and actions.

The Court of Appeals found that when Mr. Muchesko and Mrs. Muchesko dismissed their divorce action and moved as man and wife to Arizona, it suggested a reconciliation. However, the reconciliation occurred some years after they agreed to the settlement. The Court said that any terms of the settlement agreement that the couple performed before the reconciliation should be enforced.

The Court listed the exchanges made between the spouses under the settlement agreement. Wife accepted $51,000.00 from husband, took $38,000.00 from their joint stock account, and kept $45,000.00 worth of antiques as her own. Both spouses kept separate houses and finances until the reconciliation. Mr. Muchesko did not share in the rent Mrs. Muchesko received from the rental property she purchased, nor did he share in the money she received when she sold the antiques or boat.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the couple’s reconciliation did not annul the terms of the settlement agreement between Mrs. Muchesko and Mr. Muchesko that they already performed. It sent the case back to the Superior Court to reconsider how Mr. Muchesko’s retirement benefits should be divided and the issue of attorney fees.

Jennifer, thank you for being my attorney. I could not have been more pleased with the outcome of my family court hearing. Everything you have done for me throughout this case reflects in the final ruling of the judge. You helped me keep my head together and taught me a lot about myself as a person. I learned so much about my life from observing and listening to you. I will take all the advice you gave me to continue taking responsibility for my choices, continue to put the kids' needs first, and always stay truthful. Your diligence, dedication, and persistence in my case made what seemed impossible, possible. You are a wonderful person and an amazing attorney and I am stronger and more confident because of you.
A Google User
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20:31 20 Sep 17
I just want to again thank the Firm for working with me all that it has. I could not have done anything without everyone's assistance. You, Chris and Stacey have been and continue to provide me with compassion and hard work towards my case. Also a very special thanks to Kip for taking my case in the beginning. Also continued support from him and his dedication to providing me with his expertise in this matter.
A Google User
A Google User
21:41 07 Nov 17
After interviewing several law firms, I came across Jennifer Shick, and her firm, who I hired to represent me for my Family Court case. Jennifer has extensive knowledge of the law and is determined to bring the truth to every issue involved within the case. Throughout my case, Jennifer was prepared meticulously as well as went above and beyond all of my expectations. Even when the other party tried to differ from the truth, lie to the Judge, and turn situations around, Jennifer remained attentive and provided substantial evidence to show the judge the facts as well as the proof to support what was the best interests of my children. Additionally, Jennifer helped me endure many difficult experiences, situations and inspired me to remain positive throughout the entirety of my case. Her kindness, compassion, and professionalism helped me through very difficult times and made the process feel a thousand times lighter on my shoulders. She truly has my children and my best interest at heart and I trust her perspective as well as her honesty on each and every aspect of my case. She lessened the burden on my shoulders and even when I felt like the case was not going to go in my favor, Jennifer was open-minded and reassured me that the Judge would, in fact, see the truth, which he did and the case went in my favor. After nine months of court, everything finally came together. I cannot declare how much Jennifer has been an outstanding attorney. She addressed each and every issue with diligence, she cares about her clients and their families. Jennifer genuinely cares about her clients and her dedication to the details of the case was remarkable. Overall, I am extremely pleased with Jennifer’s services and I am truly thankful that I was so blessed to have her represent my children and me. I highly recommend Jennifer as one of the best attorneys in Arizona and if the situation ever arises, I will definitely have her represent my children and me again.
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14:58 04 Oct 17
Dear Stacey and Kip, How can I ever thank you enough for helping me through the most difficult time in my life? I couldn't put into words my heartfelt gratefulness. You both were so compassionate and professional at every given moment throughout this process with me. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You helped me to regain my freedom.
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16:03 22 Nov 17
I was a client of Attorney Kevin Park for the dissolution of a divorce in 2016. And since I had never had the need to hire an attorney before for any purpose, I was somewhat apprehensive of the process. But the very calm and professional demeanor of Mr. Park eased my fears. He adeptly answered all my questions and I clearly knew the process and what to expect. And the skilled manner he communicated with opposing counsel was perfect. When it came down to negotiating with my spouse’s counsel, I knew I had selected the best attorney for my situation. What I noticed and appreciated was that he was using just the right amount of pressure with opposing counsel as was necessary. If you find yourself in this situation, you will want a seasoned professional like Mr. Park on your side. I'm very grateful that he was my attorney and not the opposition!
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22:14 28 Jun 17
Chris is a smart and aggressive attorney for his clients. Chris always tries to reach a fair settlement of his cases. I’ve represented clients when Chris was the opposing counsel and while he is professional and amicable to work with, he does not back off on what he needs to do for his client
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18:16 18 Sep 17
Kevin Park of Hildebrand Law was just what I needed for my divorce. He was very approachable and personable. He was quick to recognize what I needed and provided it quickly and efficiently. I hope to never need a divorce lawyer again, but if I know anyone else who does, I will definitely recommend Kevin.
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19:22 23 Aug 17
I feel that Tracey Van Wickler is certainly one of the best family lawyers around. She is logical, intelligent, and truly cares. Tracey always does what is in the clients best interest, does it well, timely and with integrity. She is good at keeping her clients informed as to what is going on and clear in her communication both written and verbally. I have recommended Tracey to other people and will continue to recommend her. I recommended Tracey to someone who was having issues with their ex-wife and his response was, “I know how good she is because I went up against her and she ate me for lunch”. This same person was so impressed with her, he even recommended her to someone else, WOW, that is impressive! I am exceptionally happy with her attention to detail, her ability to explain things in ways that are easy to understand, as well as her ability to keep everyone focused on the most important things. I would recommend Tracey to anyone who may be in need of her services.
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