Bresky Law Obtains Reversal of Order Denying Motion To Set Aside Oral Marital Settlement Agreement

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October 7, 2020

Bresky Law recently obtained reversal of a trial court order denying a husband’s motion to set aside a purported oral settlement agreement in a dissolution of marriage proceeding.

The parties were scheduled for a hearing on the wife’s motion for temporary relief in the pending dissolution proceeding. The parties’ attorneys had some brief discussions the morning of the hearing about a possible global settlement. At the hearing, the court announced a recess for over an hour for the attorneys to explore a global settlement.

The parties’ attorneys returned and announced they had reached an agreement. However, the terms were being negotiated in open court even as it was being read into the record. Furthermore, the court and attorneys made statements indicating that a formal written marital settlement agreement would be forthcoming. The trial court obtained confirmation from the parties that they understood the terms of the agreement. However, the court failed to obtain confirmation from the parties that they discussed the terms with their attorneys or that they had the opportunity to do so. The trial court later denied the husband’s motion to set aside the oral settlement agreement, and granted the wife’s motion to enforce it.

Bresky Law represented the husband on appeal. The firm argued on behalf of the husband that the trial court’s failure to obtain confirmation the parties had discussed the terms of the agreement with their attorneys or had the opportunity to do so violated the requirements of the Fourth DCA’s holding in Richardson v. Knight, 197 So. 3d 143 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016) and other precedent. The firm also argued that the purported agreement was not sufficiently specific and mutually agreeable regarding every essential element, and that the parties had clearly intended that a formal written and signed agreement would be the binding settlement agreement.

The Fourth DCA agreed with the firm’s arguments on behalf of the husband, and issued a written opinion reversing the trial court’s order. The Fourth DCA held that its precedent in cases such as Richardson required the trial court to engage in the dual inquiry (obtain clear and unequivocal assent to the MSA and confirm each party understands terms and has discussed the MSA with its attorney). The Fourth DCA also found that the fact that the trial court later took judicial notice that it had observed each party consulting with its attorneys during the recitation of the oral agreement did not remedy the failure to confirm that each party consulted with its respective attorneys or had the opportunity to do so.

This favorable result for our client allows the dissolution of marriage to proceed without binding him to the purported MSA. The Fourth DCA opinion also clarifies the law regarding the requirements for an oral MSA announced on the record in open court to be valid and enforceable.