Divorce agreement read, assented to is valid, COA rules

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the Marshall Circuit Court’s decision to deny a woman’s repudiation of her divorce settlement when she contended the agreement was invalid and moved to correct error and for relief from judgment. 

Linda Sanders petitioned to dissolve her marriage in 2014, and both parties agreed to the settlements read into the record during the final hearing in January 2017. The trial court granted Sanders’ dissolution petition that day and directed the preparation of a dissolution order that incorporated the terms of the Agreement.

Exactly one month later, Sanders moved to repudiate the settlement, correct error and for relief from judgment, all of which the trial court denied. When she challenged both denials, Sanders contended that the agreement was invalid because it was not submitted in writing or signed before the trial court’s approval, that she timely repudiated it and the trial court failed to explicitly find that the agreement was just and reasonable.

On March 13, 2017, the trial court held a hearing on Sanders’ motion to withdraw the agreement. She claimed that during the January hearing, she could not hear her or her husband’s counsel, that the court reporter could not hear her and that she did not voice her objections more forcefully because she was “crying a lot” and had “several polyps” that had to be removed after the hearing. The trial court denied her motion to withdraw the agreement.

The Court of Appeals found that the agreement was not required to be reduced to writing or signed before approval by the trial court, and was satisfied where “[t]he substance of the agreement was testified to by [husband] and orally accepted by [wife] … Unquestionably, both [husband and wife] intentionally, with full knowledge of the eventual outcome, entered into a joint agreement.”

“We, too, fail to see any real distinction between a written agreement and written evidence of an oral agreement, as either can satisfy the policy concerns raised” in Akers v. Akers, 849 N.E.2d 773, 775 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), Judge Cale Bradford wrote Monday. “We conclude that the trial court’s recitation of the Agreement’s terms followed by Wife’s assent to them satisfies section 31-15-2-17(a)’s writing requirement.”

The court also found the agreement was just and reasonable and affirmed the denial of Sanders’ motion to correct error and failure to grant her relief from judgment, as it had already determined that the recitation of the agreement’s terms into the record, coupled with the parties’ assent to them under oath, satisfied those writing requirements.

The appellate court concluded by finding Sanders did not timely repudiate the agreement.

“The trial court also made it abundantly clear that its judgment was to be effective immediately,” Bradford concluded. “Wife’s repudiation came over one month after the trial court approved the Agreement at the final hearing, which is too late.”

The case is Linda Sanders v. Jerad Sanders 18A-DR-326.

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