Mistakes In Your Agreement

What happens when you discover mistakes in your marital settlement agreement? Family and divorce lawyers are always interested in protecting their clients, and themselves, against mistakes. When agreements are entered into fast and furiously, mistakes can happen. One married couple in Florida found out just how courts look at mistakes in a marital settlement agreement.

Mistake Divorce Agreements

Fast and Furious Divorce

In 2019, the wife filed for divorce. In their in pretrial stipulation, the parties agreed they would each keep their own cars and pay their respective car loans. However, their agreement was not specific as to what type of car each party owned and which care they would keep.

At their final hearing, the trial court entered a final judgment and incorporated their agreement. The husband kept the 2010 Mercedes and the wife kept the 2005 Mercedes.

About a month after their divorce the wife asked the family judge to correct their final judgment, arguing, in part, that the 2010 Mercedes actually belonged to her, that they no longer owned the 2005 Mercedes, and that they actually owned a 2015 Mercedes. The Husband argued in response that the 2010 Mercedes was really his car, and that there was no error in the final judgment.

During the hearing on her motion, the wife told the judge the 2010 Mercedes is titled in her name, it was her Mother’s Day gift for herself, and they intended for her to keep the care when they signed the agreement.

The husband argued that they purchased the 2010 Mercedes after being in a car accident with their previous vehicle. The couple alternated which vehicle they drove based on their needs. Before their divorce, the husband testified that it was always his understanding that he would keep the 2010 Mercedes when entering into the agreement.

Following this hearing, the court found a mutual mistake in the agreement and final judgment should be set aside. The trial court entered a Consent Order Equitably Distributing Vehicles giving the wife a one-half interest in the 2010 Mercedes and sole possession of the 2015 Mercedes. The husband appealed.

Florida Setting Aside Final Judgments

After a final judgment is entered in a divorce, courts are limited in granting relief, but not entirely. For example, a court can relieve a person from a final judgment because of things like, mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect, newly discovered evidence, fraud and the like.

Motions seeking relief from a judgment usually must be filed within a reasonable time, and usually not more than 1 year after the judgment. However, there is no time limit in Florida if the motion for relief is based on a fraudulent financial affidavit in marital or paternity case.

Fate of the Furious

On appeal, the husband argued that, at most, there was a unilateral mistake on behalf of the wife, which is insufficient grounds to set aside the final judgment.

The appellate court agreed. A marital settlement agreement may be set aside when it is entered into as a result of mutual mistake. However, a mutual mistake occurs when the parties agree to one thing and then, due to either a scrivener’s error or inadvertence, express something different in the written instrument.

But if the mistake is due to your own negligence and lack of foresight and there is absence of fraud or imposition, equity will not relieve you.

In this case, the parties’ agreement provided that “each party shall keep their own vehicle. However, there was no evidence regarding the vehicles at the final hearing, and the motion for relief filed afterwards only showed that the parties’ testimonies contradicted each other. The order was reversed and the original agreement and its disposition of the cars was reinstated.

The appellate decision is here.