Equitable Distribution


In the family law, equitable distribution case of CFP V. REP Jr. PICS Case No. 16-0842 (C.P. Lycoming June 22, 2016) the Honorable Joy Reynolds  McCoy granted Wife’s petition to enforce property settlement agreement in that the court determined had the force of a contract.

On September 19, 2014, plaintiff CFP filed for divorce from her husband, defendant REP Jr. Prior to filing, they had prepared a two-page draft document that covered the division of joint assets, personal property and alimony agreement, which was executed and witnessed by Dr. Butto on Sept. 6 2014. They proceeded to begin with the transfers and payments of alimony. In August 2015, defendant obtained separate counsel, who advised that defendant no longer would participate. He argued that although he had signed the property division/alimony document and attested to its comprehensiveness, it was only a draft and not intended to be a final binding agreement. He also complained that he “was not apprised of his rights under the Divorce Code prior to the parties’ signing it.”

On Sept. 30, 2015, plaintiff filed to enforce the property settlement agreement. On Nov. 24, 2015 defendant moved to strike on grounds that she had not attached a copy of the agreement to the petition, which motion was later withdrawn, but the question of the validity of the document remained.

Plaintiff argued that agreement was completely integrated. Defendant argued that the word “DRAFT” on the document, which remained after other revisions had been made to the document, showed that it was not intended to be binding and enforceable. It was up to the court to look at the parties’ intent. The document was updated on Sept. 6 and defendant admitted “he had not request the term “DRAFT” to be crossed out because “it wasn’t a consideration.”

Both parties’ acted to start transferring assets in accordance with the agreement, and defendant began paying alimony pursuant to its terms. The settlement agreement was governed by contract law, and the fact that it did not include certain provisions usually found in marital settlement agreement was determined to be irrelevant.  Specifically with regard to defendant’s concern that he had not been advised of his rights before signing, the court cited Stoner vs. Stoner which stated the advisement of rights was not necessary for a spousal relationship. The actions of both parties before and after the execution on Sept.6 demonstrated their intention to be bound by it. In the court’s evaluation, plaintiff met the burden of proving the existence and validity of the contract by the preponderance of the evidence.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 39 PLW 664 (July 12, 2016)

Filed Under: Divorce Property Settlement; Family Law

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