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Enforceability of a Rule 11 Agreement in Texas

ringsFamily law judges encourage those getting a divorce to enter into settlement negotiations rather than proceed to trial. Under rule 11 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, agreements reached during these negotiations are not enforceable unless they are written, signed, and filed with the divorce papers as part of the record, or the agreement is made in open court and entered as part of the record. In order to have the agreement be enforced, all material terms are supposed to be included, and they should be clear and unambiguous.

In Bush v. Bush, a Texas Court of Appeals considered the enforceability of a rule 11 agreement. The case was an appeal from a divorce decree in which the husband challenged the trial court’s award of two parcels of real property to his former wife. The wife sued for divorce in March 2013, and in response the husband filed a counter petition for divorce and moved to enforce a rule 11 agreement regarding the division of property, which his ex-wife and he had filed in a prior divorce case that was dismissed in 2006.

He subsequently moved to transfer and consolidate the current divorce proceeding with the previously dismissed case. The trial court came to the decision that the prior divorce had been dismissed by agreement of the parties and that since the parties agreed to the dismissal and signed the order, everything in the prior proceeding had been dismissed, and the prior case did not need to be reinstated into the current case. It also found that rule 11 agreements may be revoked until they are accepted by the court and incorporated in a final order, and this wasn’t done in the prior proceeding. The court also held that even if the agreement had survived, it didn’t have the specificity necessary to be enforced, although with respect to the sale of a particular piece of real property, the agreement might be enforceable through the application of contract law.

At trial, the husband’s attorney acknowledged that the rule 11 agreement had been found unenforceable and also said that he wouldn’t argue it was a valid rule 11 agreement. However, evidence related to the agreement was limited to the question of whether it could be enforced as an independent contract.

The judge heard the evidence and signed a rendition laying out the distribution of property. The final decree of divorce was signed by a visiting judge, and the distribution of property followed the rendition.

The husband appealed. He argued that the real property awarded to his former wife was bought with proceeds obtained from a discrimination lawsuit, and according to the rule 11 agreement filed earlier, the lawsuit proceeds were his separate property, rather than their shared marital property, and therefore they should have been awarded to him. He did not, however, provide authority to challenge the trial court’s finding that the rule 11 agreement couldn’t be enforced as valid in the later divorce proceeding. He argued there was no language in the agreement that limited when it should be enforced, and there was nothing ambiguous about the parties’ agreement that the proceeds from his discrimination suit were separate property.

The appellate court explained that an agreement under rule 11 has to be made in connection with a pending divorce. The portion of the agreement related to the discrimination suit proceeds was one sentence out of four pages, and to be enforced, a rule 11 agreement needed to be complete as to all material details.

The appellate court determined that the husband had failed to show that the trial court erred.

The husband also argued that the trial court should have made findings and conclusions in connection with the award of two pieces of property to his wife in spite of the earlier rule 11 agreement. The appellate court explained that when only one aspect of property division is challenged, and the reason for the property award is clear from the record, an appellant isn’t injured by the trial court’s failure to make findings and conclusions.

In this case, the trial court had rendered a written order earlier than trial, stating the rule 11 agreement wasn’t enforceable. Since this was the only basis upon which the husband claimed the real properties were his separate property, the trial court properly held the properties were marital property that was subject to division. The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

If you are considering divorce and you’re concerned about property division, contact the Texas attorneys of the McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.

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