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A Texas Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) that meets the statutory formalities is binding and the parties are entitled to a judgment upon it (i.e., the divorce decree must adopt it).  In a recent case, a husband challenged an order issued after the divorce decree that was intended to conform the decree with the terms of the MSA.

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parties executed an MSA. A couple of weeks after the court entered the final divorce decree, the wife moved for clarification of the MSA.  She alleged the final decree did not reflect the MSA, because it failed to confirm certain items as her separate property.  The trial court entered an order confirming those items as her separate property after a hearing.

The husband appealed.

Breaking Down the Mediated Settlement Agreement

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e MSA had three parts, the Preamble, Exhibit A, and Exhibit B.  The Preamble stated the parties agreed to the provisions of Exhibits A and B, which were incorporated by reference.  Exhibit A contained what the appeals court considered the agreement’s “principal terms.” Item No. 2 stated the husband would keep the home and its contents “except for the items listed on Exhibit B that have been circled. . .” Item No. 10 stated each party would “retain the personal property in their possession except as set forth in Exhibit B.”  In Exhibit B, 124 items were listed under the general heading of “Property List,”  some of which were circled.  The decree awarded the circled items to the wife.

There were 65 items listed under “SEPARATE PROPERTY.”  The final divorce decree had not referenced these items, but the trial court awarded them to the wife in its subsequent order.

Appellate Court Rejects Husband’s Arguments

The husband argued the court erred in classifying these items as the wife’s separate property.  He argued he had only agreed to the wife receiving the items that had been circled.  The appeals court disagreed. The appeals court noted Exhibit B was referenced not only in Item No. 2, but also in Item No. 10.  Item No. 10  provided the parties would keep the personal property in their possession except as set forth in Exhibit B.  Item No. 10 did not require anything in Exhibit B to be circled.  The appeals court also noted that the items at issue were under the “SEPARATE PROPERTY” heading.  These items were also numbered separately from the other 124 items.  The appeals court found these differences indicated the parties intended the items under the “SEPARATE PROPERTY” heading to be treated differently from the other 124 items.  The appeals court further found the “SEPARATE PROPERTY” heading would be meaningless if the items under it were required to be circled to be considered the wife’s separate property.

The appeals court also rejected the husband’s argument that the divorce decree’s merger clause required the decree to control if there were any differences between the decree and the MSA.    The appeals court noted that a MSA that meets the statutory requirements is binding on both parties and on the trial court.  The trial court does not have the authority to enter a decree that conflicts with the MSA with regards to the property division. There was therefore no error in the trial court’s determination that the merger clause did not preclude it from issuing an order to carry out the MSA’s terms.

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s order.

Mediation is Important – Hire Experienced Attorneys to Represent You

As this case shows, an MSA is a binding agreement.  It is important that the document clearly reflects the parties’ actual agreement.  Even if you anticipate reaching an agreement regarding property division with your spouse, a knowledgeable Texas divorce attorney can help you ensure the agreement is appropriately documented.  Call 214.692.8200 to schedule a consultation with McClure Law Group.