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Texas Court May Correct Clerical Error in Final Decree

In a Texas divorce case, a mediated settlement agreement (MSA) that meets the requirements set forth in the Texas Family Code is binding and cannot be revoked. Furthermore, the parties are entitled to judgment on such an MSA during the court’s plenary power.

In a recent case, a husband challenged a final decree nunc pro nunc issued by the court after the original final divorce decree failed to conform to the MSA.  The parties executed a binding MSA, which awarded the husband $50,000 of the wife’s 401(k).  However, when the court signed the agreed final decree, it awarded him $100,000 of the wife’s 401(k).  The decree noted the agreements were reached in mediation and it was “stipulated to represent a merger of a [MSA]…” No post-trial motion was filed and the court lost plenary power.

The husband later filed a Qualified Domestic Relations Order awarding him $100,000 of the wife’s 401(k).  The wife moved for a judgment nunc pro tunc on the grounds a clerical error in the final decree erroneously divided the estate in a way that was not compliant with the MSA.  She asked the court to correct that error.  The husband argued it was a judicial error that the court could not change.  The court signed a final decree of divorce nunc pro tunc awarding the husband $50,000 of the 401(k).  The husband appealed.

The husband argued that the court had lost its plenary power and therefore did not have jurisdiction to issue the final decree nunc pro tunc.  A trial court only has plenary power to correct, modify, or vacate a judgment for 30 days after signing it.  Once 30 days pass, the court loses subject matter jurisdiction.  It may, however, correct a clerical error in the judgment through a nunc pro tunc judgment at any time.  A clerical error is one that incorrectly documents the judgment that was actually rendered.  An error in rendering the judgment is a judicial error and cannot be corrected through a nunc pro tunc judgment.

The appeals court found there was evidence the parties signed an MSA relating to division of property that met the statutory requirements.  The MSA was therefore binding and irrevocable and the parties were entitled to judgment on it, notwithstanding any other rule.

There was also evidence in the docket entry the trial court had rendered oral judgment on the MSA.  The entry specifically stated “MSA judgment granted” and cited both the statute and case that state a party is entitled to judgment on an MSA if it meets the statutory requirements.

The husband argued the court had skipped the step of making a factual determination regarding the rendering.  The appeals court noted it implied the finding that he was to receive $50,000 of the 401(k).  The appeals court also rejected the argument that the trial court had not permitted evidence.  The court stated it had read the briefs, heard the parties’ arguments, and allowed the parties to offer exhibits.

The appeals court found no error in the trial court’s determination the error was clerical and granting the motion for judgment nunc pro tunc.  The appeals court affirmed.

If you are dealing with a divorce, you need an experienced Dallas divorce attorney to help you through all aspects of the process, including mediation and potential appeals. Schedule an appointment with McClure Law Group by calling 214.692.8200.