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Divorce, Reconciliation, and California Marital Settlement Agreements – In re Marriage of McSorley

Sometimes after a couple divorces, they change their minds. Reconciliation can raise a number of tricky legal issues for spouses who have already decided how they will split their property, care for their kids, and resolve other issues related to a divorce. California’s Second District Court of Appeals recently took up some of those issues.

Wedding RingsHusband and Wife separated in early 2012, just two months after the couple married. They eventually entered into a marital settlement agreement, under which Husband pledged to pay Wife $12,000 in spousal support over two years. The former spouses also agreed that two homes Husband owned before they got married were his separate property and that Wife would keep the wedding ring and a related $10,000 gift. The agreement made clear that it was final and that it could not be modified, unless agreed to in writing. A court approved the settlement agreement and ordered that the marriage be dissolved, effective four months later.

That’s when things took an interesting turn. “Within two days of signing the MSA, the parties declared their love for each other in text messages,” according to the Second District. Within a year, Wife was again living with Husband in one of his homes. Husband apparently continued to wear his wedding ring and treated Wife publicly as his spouse. He also continued to pay the spousal support. Husband and Wife separated a second time about 10 months after Husband finished making the support payments.

Wife then asked a court to set aside the settlement agreement, arguing that Husband had used fraud to get her to sign the document. Wife also asserted that she should be awarded half the homes’ value as community property. She claimed Husband entered into the agreement while secretly intending to reconcile in order to avoid having to split the properties with her in the event the couple decided to break up again. The trial judge sided with Husband, finding that the settlement agreement remained in effect because the spouses didn’t agree to modify it.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Second District said the trial judge properly found no evidence to support Wife’s claim that Husband had secured the agreement by fraud. The Court said that the agreement clearly stated that it would survive any reconciliation and that the former spouses’ actions indicated that they intended to be bound by the deal. It noted that Wife continued to accept the support payments. The Court said she also seemed to recognize, in text messages to Husband, that she didn’t have any rights to his separate property. As a result, the Court also said the trial judge acted within his authority in ordering Wife to pay $7,500 in sanctions for pursuing frivolous claims.

If you’re considering divorce or are grappling with spousal support, community property, and other related issues in California, contact San Jose divorce attorney John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve a wide variety of marital disputes. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

Related blog posts:

Settlement Agreement Contract Disputes in California – In re Marriage of Wintemute and Soltan

Valuing a Spouse’s Business in California Divorce Cases – In re Marriage of Caldwell

Retirement Income and Spousal Support – In re Marriage of McKarus