MARY F. SMITH, Petitioner/Appellant,
WAYNE A. SMITH, Respondent/Appellee.
Mandate Issued: 06/05/2019
FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF JOHNSTON COUNTY, OKLAHOMA
HONORABLE WALLACE COPPEDGE, TRIAL JUDGE
D. Jones, JONES LAW, PC, Durant, Oklahoma, For
Michael Haggerty, II, HAGGERTY LAW OFFICE, Durant, Oklahoma,
JACK GOREE, CHIEF JUDGE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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. 
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.
In Wheeler v. Wheeler,1934 OK 113, 167 Okla. 598,
32 P.2d 305, in its ...