If you’re still grieving over the loss of Kenny Rogers, you’re not alone. The Gambler left us with a myriad of soulful ballads set to melodies etched in our hearts; and along the way, left us with some prophetic words to live by….
Knowing not to “count your money, ‘till the dealin’s done” is a life lesson that can apply to so many things, including negotiating a divorce agreement.
Divorces are often resolved by agreement of the parties and their lawyers. The advantages of reaching an agreement when compared to the time, labor, expense, uncertainty and anxiety of going to trial, are self-evident.
Courts like settlement agreements; they save court time and free up court calendars to hear other matters that don’t settle. Courts will therefore take settlement agreements seriously, and treat them as ‘contracts’ that are binding upon the parties. Chalmers v. Kanawyer, 544 N.W.2nd 795, 797 (Minn. Ct. App. 1996). Just like the lesson of the Gambler, however, Courts are careful when choosing whether an agreement should be ‘thrown away’ or ‘kept’.
Before a Court will accept a settlement agreement, it needs to see a ‘meeting of the minds’. Parties must therefore be careful to ensure that they’ve clearly laid out the essential terms. Perkarek v. Wilking, 380 N.W.2d 161, 163 (Minn. Ct. App. 1986). When deciding whether a settlement agreement is a binding contract, the Court will look at the objective conduct of the parties who entered into the agreement; not their subjective intent. Gressler v. Hotzler, 604 N.W.2d 379, 382 (Minn. Ct. App. 2000). Said another way; it’s more important to look at what the parties were did to express their intent to form an agreement; not so much what the parties thought about the agreement.
Recently, the Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s decision to reject an agreement, which the parties made leading up to their divorce trial. In its decision, the Court of Appeals reasoned that no ‘meeting of the minds’ had occurred where there was no single, unified document explaining what the purported agreement was.
The agreement in the case of Bernstein v. Gilbert, (A18-1402; A18-1408) was reached in the course of about six (6) weeks of negotiations, where the parties’ attorneys exchanged emails and finally acknowledged that they had an agreement, and asked the Court to cancel their trial date. Only then did the one of attorneys acknowledge that a detail had been missed, and backed out of the agreement. The Court agreed that no deal had been reached, when it found that “no full offer made by either party with every term of the agreement in a single document” was ever made.
So just like Kenny reminded us, don’t count on having a deal, until you’ve made certain that it’s done. Always seek out competent legal advice when considering entering into a divorce settlement.
Contact Beyer & Simonson
If you are facing divorce and any of the divorce-related issues such as spousal maintenance, child support, child custody, property division, or domestic abuse matters, you need our experienced Minneapolis divorce attorneys to help you. Contact Beyer & Simonson in Edina, Minnesota today at (952) 303-6007.