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Smith v. Smith

Court of Appeals of Oklahoma, Division I

May 10, 2019

MARY F. SMITH, Petitioner/Appellant,
v.
WAYNE A. SMITH, Respondent/Appellee.

          Mandate Issued: 06/05/2019

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF JOHNSTON COUNTY, OKLAHOMA HONORABLE WALLACE COPPEDGE, TRIAL JUDGE

          Chris D. Jones, JONES LAW, PC, Durant, Oklahoma, For Petitioner/Appellant,

          D. Michael Haggerty, II, HAGGERTY LAW OFFICE, Durant, Oklahoma, for Respondent/Appellee.

          BRIAN JACK GOREE, CHIEF JUDGE

         ¶1 Petitioner appeals a trial court order enforcing a settlement agreement and incorporating it into the decree of dissolution. The trial court erred when it (1) declined to judge whether the division of marital property was just and reasonable, (2) accepted a pre-trial mediation memorandum as conclusive without determining whether the agreement was equitable, and (3) placed the burden of proof on the party opposing the motion to enforce the settlement agreement. We reverse and remand.

         ¶2 In 1972, Petitioner, Mary F. Smith [Wife], and Respondent, Wayne A. Smith [Husband] were married. On March 28, 2015, they separated, and on September 2, 2015, Wife filed a Petition for Legal Separation and Maintenance [FD-2015-34]. On September 17, 2015, a Decree of Legal Separation and Maintenance was entered.

         ¶3 On December 15, 2016, Wife filed a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage [FD-2016-48]. Following Husband's Motion for Order of Consolidation, on March 15, 2017, the trial court ordered FD-2015-34 and FD-2016-48 consolidated for trial by Order Consolidating Cases. On May 9, 2017, the parties attended early settlement mediation with their attorneys. At the conclusion of the three hour mediation, the mediator drafted a Memorandum of Understanding [ Settlement Agreement] in the presence of the parties and attorneys and gave each of them an opportunity to read it while still in the room. Neither party signed the Settlement Agreement. On May 25, 2017, Results of Mediation was filed indicating that an agreement had been reached and the attorneys or Husband or Wife will present the paperwork to the trial court.

         ¶4 The Settlement Agreement provided that (1) Wife was to receive the marital residence and 200 acres of land; $36, 000.00 in support alimony paid at the rate of $1, 500.00 per month for 24 months; ½ the parties' mineral rights in McClain and Bryan Counties, Oklahoma and Yoakum, Texas; and personal property in her possession, (2) Husband was to receive the Wells Fargo account; all interest in his retirement accounts; $100, 000.00 for his interest in the real property payable within two years; ½ the parties' mineral rights in McClain and Bryan Counties, Oklahoma and Yoakum, Texas; personal property in his possession; and his guns.

         ¶5 Soon after mediation, Wife retained new counsel. Wife's new counsel entered an appearance and filed Notice of Discovery Submitted. Husband filed a Motion to Suspend Discovery/Protective Order and a Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement. On July 20, 2017, a hearing was conducted on the Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement. At the hearing, Wife testified that prior to mediation, she had requested her then attorney to conduct discovery in order to give her some options, but the attorney had not done so. She testified that she was 67 years of age and was going to be living on a small amount of money, and that she needed discovery on Husband's state and federal retirement funds. She testified that during mediation, she told her attorney, "... we needed to just stop right here, right now, not go any further and just bring it to court and settle it there." The trial court took the matter under advisement. On July 22, 2017, in its Court Order, the trial court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law, and granted Husband's motion to enforce the settlement agreement. On September 6, 2017, in the Decree of Dissolution, the trial court incorporated the Settlement Agreement into the Decree. Wife appeals.

         ¶6 Wife contends because the Settlement Agreement is unenforceable, the trial court erred in incorporating the Settlement Agreement into the Decree and in requiring her to comply with Decree's terms. She claims the Settlement Agreement is unenforceable absent the approval of the trial court. In Acker v. Acker, 1979 OK 67, ¶10, 594 P.2d 1216, the Supreme Court held that such an agreement is not binding on the trial court. In Dickason v. Dickason, 1980 OK 24, ¶9, 607 P.2d 674, the Supreme Court held a settlement agreement is not enforceable absent its approval by the trial court. In Adams v. Adams, 2000 OK CIV APP 87, ¶5, 11 P.3d 220, the Court of Civil Appeals held that a settlement agreement shall not be approved unless it is fair, just and reasonable. In a divorce case, the trial court has the duty to divide the marital property in a manner "as may appear just and reasonable." 43 O.S. 2011 §121 (B). Moreover, in considering whether a divorce settlement agreement is fair and reasonable, the trial court must look beyond the terms of the agreement and consider the relation of the parties at the time of trial, their ages, health, financial conditions, opportunities, and contribution of each to the joint estate. Seelig v. Seelig, 1969 OK 160, ¶13, 460 P.2d 433.

         ¶7 In the present case, the trial court did not approve the Settlement Agreement, but enforced it nonetheless. In its Court Order, the trial court stated that it declined to follow the rationale of Adams v. Adams, supra., and concluded that the party who seeks to rescind or void a settlement agreement bears the burden of convincing the trial court that the agreement is not fair, just, or reasonable. It found that Wife failed to meet her burden of proof showing that the Settlement Agreement was not fair, just or unreasonable, and that she further failed to meet her burden of proof to show that it was obtained by fraud, duress or undue influence on the part of Husband. [1]

         ¶8 Divorce actions are of equitable cognizance, and the trial court has discretionary power to divide the marital estate. The reviewing court will not disturb the decision absent some abuse of discretion or a finding that the trial court decision is clearly contrary to the weight of the evidence. Barnett v. Barnett, OK 60, ¶10, 917 P.2d 473. Legal questions are subject to de novo review, i.e., a non-deferential, plenary and independent review of the trial court's legal ruling. Fulsom v. Fulsom, 2003 OK 96, ¶2, 81 P.3d 652.

         ¶9 In Wheeler v. Wheeler,1934 OK 113, 167 Okla. 598, 32 P.2d 305, in its ...


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