Family Law

FAILURE TO READ SEPARATION AND PROPERTY SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT DOES NOT WARRANT NULLIFICATION OF AGREEMENT

The court denied husband’s petition to set aside a property settlement agreement where husband had failed to read the entire document, because he failed to meet his burden of demonstrating fraud, duress or other type of wrongdoing.

          Husband and wife both signed a document entitled “separation and property settlement agreement” on May 4, 2020. Wife subsequently presented husband with an addendum and a two-page document containing calculations, husband did not sign either of these subsequent documents. He filed a petition to set aside the property settlement agreement.

          At the hearing on his petition, husband admitted that he had signed the settlement agreement, but he stated that he only briefly perused it and did not read the entire document. Husband acknowledged that he was supposed to take the document to his attorney for review, but he decided not to do so, because he just wanted to get out of town. According to husband, the parties continued to discuss the division of their assets.

          The settlement agreement contained statements that the parties understood the facts underlying the agreement, including the values of the items they were receiving. The agreement contained a representation that the parties were signing the document freely and voluntarily. Just above husband’s signature was a statement that he was not signing under duress or pressure of any kind. This section of the contract also included an acknowledgement that husband understood the settlement agreement was binding and that modifications were only permitted if they were in writing.

          Pennsylvania law held that property settlement agreements were presumed valid and were binding on the parties. McGannon v. McGannon, 359 A.2d 431. A party seeking to set aside such an agreement had the burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that the agreement was not valid. Fraud, misrepresentation or duress could invalidate a settlement agreement. Simeone v. Simeone, 581 A.2d 162.  Pennsylvania case law had long held that the failure to read a contract did not warrant nullification of its provisions.

          Husband argued he was distraught over the parties’ separation when he signed the settlement agreement. However, husband did not make any assertions of fraud, duress, misrepresentation or other wrongdoing on the part of wife. His failure to read the agreement and seek legal advice prior to signing did not invalidate the settlement agreement. Because husband failed to meet his burden, the court denied his petition to set aside the parties’ property settlement agreement.

REF: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, October 13, 2020, Frye v. Frye, PICS Case No. 20-1008 (C.P. Lycoming, August 25, 2020,) 43 PLW 933

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