What happens when you make a mistake in a Judgment of Divorce? The answer is it depends. If both parties agree, a mistake is easily corrected. However, if the mistake favors one party, it is not always easy.
In the case of Amante v. Amante, Mich App. Case No. 331542, the parties entered into a consent judgment of divorce. On appeal, the husband argues that due to a mutual mistake, a provision barring spousal support was not recorded as part of the settlement agreement placed on the record at mediation.
At the trial court level, the husband filed a motion for relief from the judgment of divorce. The husband wanted to fix the mistake and bar spousal support. The trial court denied the request and the husband appealed.
In its decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals noted that a settlement agreement is construed as a contract, citing Myland v. Myland, 290 Mich. App. 691, 700 (2010): “Unless a party can establish fraud, mutual mistake, or severe stress, he or she will not be relieved of a binding contract.” Id.
The ‘BIG’ mistake? We forgot to bar spousal support.
The husband argued that both attorneys and the mediator forgot to include a provision barring spousal support, a big mistake. In support of the argument of a mutual mistake, husband relied upon an email from his wife’s attorney which stated: “[a] spousal support order is only needed when the support is modifiable. Spousal support in this case is forever barred and thus not modifiable so no order is needed.” In addition, the husband provided a proposed judgment of divorce that was drafted by wife’s attorney which included a provision barring spousal support.
The Michigan Court of Appeals noted that “a mutual mistake is ‘an erroneous belief, which is shared and relied on by both parties, about a material fact that affects the substance of the transaction.” Citing Kaftan v. Kaftan, 300 Mich. App. 661 (2013).
However, wife’s attorney argued to the trial court, before the judgment of divorce was entered that his client did not agree to baring spousal support and thus, the mistake was a unilateral mistake. The trial court and the Court of Appeals agreed with wife’s attorney. The Michigan Court of Appeals noting: “Because the alleged mistake of omitting a provision barring spousal support was not “share and reline on by both parties,” it follows that the mistake was not mutual. The husband lost on appeal
A key takeaway in this case is the notion that precision matters. Sometimes in a rush to settle a case, things are missed and mistakes made. Simply put, had the mediator and attorneys been more thorough, there would be no ambiguity regarding the issue of spousal support.
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By: Daniel Findling