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Can family violence render a Mediated Settlement Agreement void?

This past week the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan posted a blog article that centered around mediated settlement agreements in family law cases. We discussed how these documents are binding in almost every circumstance. State law mandates that a court issue an order reflective of the mediated settlement agreement of two parties that enter into one.

Courts typically are in favor of MSAs because they lighten their overburdened docket of cases. The parties themselves typically like them as well since time and money are saved by not having to go all the way to a trial in their case. Not to mention that the agreement that is reached more than likely is better than any judgment that a court could render.

What happens in a situation where you believe that good cause exists for a court to not enforce a MSA? Given the treatment of MSAs by our State law there is certainly an uphill battle to face if your intent is have one overruled, essentially.

A recent family case in Texas was appealed and the subject matter had to do with a mother who attempted to do just that. A key part of her rational was that she was not able to utilize family violence evidence enough in mediation in order to increase the amount of child support she was set to receive. Let’s discuss this case and its implications today.

In the Interest of C.C.E., a child

The title of this section is also the name of the case we will be discussing. For those of you are very interested in appellate law in Texas the case citation is 14-16-00571-CV. This child custody case saw a mother file an appeal with one of our State’s appellate courts to argue that the MSA that she had entered into should not have been enforced.

Her reasoning was that the child support portion of the MSA was in violation of public policy, she did not actually approve of the MSA and that the family violence element was not considered sufficiently within the MSA.

Mother and father in this case were divorced a few years prior to this custody case. The parties were involved in the child custody case that focused on child support. Eventually the parties mediated their case and settled on a different amount of child support as compared to their divorce order.

A key agreement that had been reached was that neither party would be able to alter the new child support number for a period of time as a result of signing off on the MSA. Their MSA was like any other that you or I could sign if we were involved in a family law case. The MSA was not revocable and was entered into voluntarily, the document said.

Mother seeks to overturn MSA

Months later, the Mother attempted to take back her decision to settle and sign the MSA.

By this time an agreed order had been signed by the judge and both parties were entitled to a judgment based on the MSA that had been agreed to. In her attempt to overturn the Order and MSA, the Mother argued that because family violence had occurred she was entitled to a different (higher) level of child support than had been set forth.

What the mother was asking for specifically was to overturn the MSA on the grounds that any agreement that limits her ability to ask for a change in child support is void as against public policy.

Furthermore, she argued, she could pull back her consent to an agreement any time prior to the court signing the order. She had also not had an opportunity to present her positions on how family violence affected her ability to be awarded a higher than agreed to level of child support.

The court disagreed, arguing that the domestic violence assertion had occurred a long while before mediation. The large gap in time between the events made it irrelevant. Though the court certainly wasn’t defending the alleged actions of violence, the allegations alone were not enough to overturn a MSA in the court’s opinion.

Mother appeals the lower court’s decision to honor MSA

The mother presented similar arguments to the appellate court, arguing that the MSA should be declared void due to its limiting her ability to ask for an increase in the child support amount.

Furthermore, had she not been influenced by the family violence she would not have been induced into signing a MSA that she did not agree with. Without the ability to present evidence about the family violence that she suffered an unjust result had occurred.

The appellate court ended up upholding the decision from the lower court. It argued that while a party could revoke their consent to settle the case at any point prior to the court signing the order, there was an exception in State law that covered MSAs.

Due to the MSA having contained language stating it was irrevocable, and since the MSA met the standard set by state law for irrevocability, the MSA should have stood despite the claims of the Mother.

While the appellate court did point out that yes, there was an exception under the law that allowed for the victim of family violence to have a MSA overturned, the ability to do so was not available to the Mother in this specific instance. When it was all said and done the MSA, and the order drafted based on the MSA, was upheld by the appellate court.

Questions on Mediation and settlement agreements? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have questions about how mediation works in the context of a family law case please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. One of our licensed family law attorneys will be available to meet with you six days a week to answer any questions that you may have.

We represent clients across southeast Texas and we would be honored to speak to you about doing the same for you and your family.

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Law Office of Bryan Fagan | Tomball, Texas Divorce Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Tomball, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.

Our divorce lawyers in Tomball TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan handles Divorce cases in Tomball, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.

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