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Family Violence Exception and Texas Mediated Settlement Agreements

In a recent Texas child support case, a mother appealed after the trial court enforced a mediated settlement agreement. She argued it was an error to enforce it because:  (1) it included a child support provision that violated public policy, (2) the mother took back her consent before it was approved, and (3) she wasn’t allowed to give evidence to bolster her family violence exception argument.

The case arose several years after a divorce. The parents mediated the matter and signed an irrevocable mediated settlement agreement, in which they agreed to different terms related to child support. The mediated settlement agreement included a provision under which there would be a limited standstill period, during which nobody would ask for child support increases.

The couple had signed the agreement and filed it. The agreement stated that it was meant to be a full and final settlement and that the parents had voluntarily signed it.

The mother filed a motion to modify the parent-child relationship after that. Both parties signed the proposed agreed order, in which they said neither of them would ask for a modification before the end of 2016. The lower court found the modifications were in the child’s best interests.

More than two months after filing the motion, the mother tried to take back her consent to the agreement. The trial court signed the proposed agreed order. It found that the agreement was properly signed, it satisfied legal requirements for irrevocability, and the parties were entitled to judgment. It also found that the mother’s domestic violence claim was long before the agreement and that the mother wasn’t alleging there was domestic violence committed at a time relevant to mediation. It found the mother’s allegation of long-ago domestic violence was not enough to justify setting aside the agreement.

The lower court found that it couldn’t make findings related to the amount of child support because the mediation was confidential, and it had been asked to render judgment based on the agreement. It also found neither party had complied with the Texas Family Code requirements about tendering information for the purposes of the court making requested findings because the amount was set in mediation.

The mother moved for a new trial and argued the agreement was void on its face because it limited the right to ask for child support changes, and she had the right to withdraw her consent prior to the court signing the order. She also claimed the agreement was made because of undue influence triggered by prior family violence, and she should have been able to present evidence about family violence.

The mother appealed. The father argued the mother’s challenge based on the standstill provision was moot because it had already expired. The appellate court found there was still an actual controversy, and each party had a legally cognizable interest in the outcome. The appellate court disagreed with the idea that the parties had contracted away their right to judgment under section 153.0071 without court approval. It explained a party could usually revoke consent to an agreed judgment based on a settlement agreement prior to judgment being rendered, but there was an exception for mediated settlement agreements. The agreement stated it was irrevocable and satisfied the legal requirement for irrevocability, so the mother couldn’t revoke her consent.

The mother also argued she should have been able to give evidence on the family violence exception, which allows a trial court to decide not to enter judgment on a mediated settlement agreement if a party to the agreement was a family violence victim. The appellate court found that the mother hadn’t preserved this error.

The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s order.

If your divorce involves matters related to child support, call the Texas attorneys at the McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.

More Blog Posts:

Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, and a Discussion on Family Violence Protective Orders and Temporary Restraining Orders in Texas, June 9, 2016

Divorce and Taxes – What to do if your ex-spouse botched your joint tax return, May 31, 2016