Settlement Agreements and Mediated Settlement Agreements
The Texas Family Code draws a distinction between settlement agreements and mediated settlement agreements. Settlement agreements are governed by section 7.006 of the Family Code, while mediated settlement agreements are subject to section 6.602.
Differences Between Types of Agreements
The primary distinctions between a settlement agreement and a mediated settlement agreement are that the former can be revised or repudiated by either party before the trial court renders a divorce plus the trial court must approve the terms of a settlement agreement. In contrast, a mediated settlement agreement that meets certain requirements* is binding from the time it is signed, cannot be unilaterally revised or repudiated and is not subject to court approval. In In re Marriage of Joyner, 196 S.W.3d 883, 889 (Tex. App – Texarkana 2006, pet. denied), the court remarked that a mediated settlement agreement allows the parties to “settle their property as they see fit, keeping those matters out of the courtroom.”
Mediated Settlement Agreement Applied in Void Marriage
The First Court of Appeals applied these principles in Davis v. Davis, No. 01-12-00701-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [1st Dist.] Mar. 6, 2014) (mem. op.), even though the parties’ marriage was void: At trial of the divorce suit, the wife testified that she had previously married another man in a religious ceremony but never divorced under Texas law or otherwise because she thought a civil divorce unnecessary to dissolve a religious marriage. Accordingly, the trial court declared the current marriage void but enforced the parties’ mediated settlement agreement even though the agreement contemplated the parties’ divorce.
Putative Spouses Entitled to Just and Right Division
The trial court treated the wife as a putative spouse, or in other words, as a party to a void marriage that was entered into in good faith. Because a putative spouse is entitled to a “just and right” division of property accumulated during the putative marriage the same as if the marriage were valid, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it enforced the mediated settlement agreement.
* Texas Family Code section 6.602(b) states:
(b) A mediated settlement agreement is binding on the parties if the agreement:
(1) provides, in a prominently displayed statement that is in boldfaced type or capital letters or underlined, that the agreement is not subject to revocation;
(2) is signed by each party to the agreement; and
(3) is signed by the party’s attorney, if any, who is present at the time the agreement is signed.