Marital Settlement Agreement Incorporated Into Divorce Judgment Declared “Moot”

gavel-3-1409593-m.jpgDepending on the facts and circumstances surrounding a divorce, the marital settlement agreement can vary in length, as well as the impact on the parties’ future lives. The agreement typically purports to settle significant matters between the spouses, such as child custody and support, visitation, spousal support, the division of community property, and many other items. Drafting such an agreement requires meticulous attention to detail, along with a thorough understanding of the ramifications of each provision. An executed marital settlement agreement is often incorporated into the divorce judgment and should resolve all outstanding matters between the parties. If you are considering a divorce, you are encouraged to contact a seasoned family law attorney from the San Diego area who will work to protect and preserve your rights.

Essentially, a marital settlement agreement is a contract between two parties who are about to become former spouses. Under California law, such an agreement is to be construed under the state’s statutory laws that are applicable to contracts in general. When one party contests a clause under the agreement, contract principles will generally apply. In a recent divorce case arising under unique facts, the trial court issued an order relieving the ex-wife from the obligation to make monthly payments for the ex-husband’s benefit, according to the terms of the marital settlement agreement. The ex-husband appealed.

Here, the appellant (now ex-husband) was convicted in 2000 for various crimes and is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence. His wife filed for divorce in 2008. They entered into a marital settlement agreement under which the appellant gave up his interest in most of the couple’s community property. Under the agreement, the ex-wife was obligated to deliver to appellant a promissory note, secured by real estate, for the purpose of equalizing the division of marital property. According to the promissory note, the ex-wife was obligated to pay the husband’s brother $100.00 per month until: 1) the husband is released from prison or, 2) the note has been paid in full.

In February 2013, the ex-wife remitted to the sheriff the total amount of the promissory note in an effort to pay off her ex-husband’s judgment creditor. Therefore, she asked the court to be relieved of the obligation to continue making the $100.00 monthly payment. The trial court granted her request. The court of appeals affirmed, pointing out that the marital settlement agreement clearly and unambiguously provided that the promissory note may be paid off at any time and, further indicates that once the note has been fulfilled, the obligation to make the $100.00 payments will be terminated.

Based on the above reasoning, the court declared the appeal moot, because the events in this case have rendered it impossible for the court to grant any effective relief. While the law in California allows for appellate courts to review the merits of a moot appeal in certain instances, the court found that none of those scenarios applied to this case.

While this is an unpublished decision that parties may not cite or rely on in future cases, the court’s reasoning could certainly inform later opinions arising in this jurisdiction. As this decision illustrates, when going through a divorce, it is important to consult with an experienced, local family law attorney.

Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties involved in family law disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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