Partial Settlement Agreements, part 2

Recently, in the case of Porter v. Porter, the Second District Court of Appeal decided an issue regarding a partial settlement agreement in a family law case. In this case, the husband and wife had two vehicles, a Malibu and an Acadia. They both agreed that the Wife should get the Acadia, and that she should be responsible for the loan associated with this vehicle. They did not agree on how much this vehicle was worth. Nothing else about the case was agreed upon. During the trial, the husband and wife both testified about what they believed the value of the Acadia was, and also testified about the Malibu. The judge did not rule, or make a decision, immediately. Instead she held a second telephonic hearing during which she pronounced her ruling.

At this telephonic hearing, the Wife’s attorney informed the judge about some recent changes to the value of the Acadia due to recent damage to the vehicle. The Wife’s attorney also asked the judge to give the Wife the Malibu and the Husband the Acadia. The judge gave the Wife the Malibu and the Husband the Acadia, however she did not make the requested downward adjustment to the value of the Acadia due to the recent damage. Her reasoning for doing this was because she had no evidence or testimony on which to rely; she only had an attorney’s assertion, which is not evidence.

When the Husband appealed this decision, the appellate court agreed with the Husband. The trial court was required to abide by the agreement of the parties regarding the vehicles, since this was a partial settlement regarding equitable distribution of assets. The appellate court also explained that the trial judge was correct in not adjusting the value of the Acadia without having any testimony or evidence regarding this issue.

The two most important points to take away from this case are as follows: Be very sure that you are comfortable with the terms of a settlement before you sign an agreement, and if anything changes, new evidence must be presented. An update cannot simply be provided to the judge on your behalf, a subsequent hearing must be held where new information can be presented, if such a hearing is permitted by law.