Is a Mediation Agreement Binding?

Case Discussed:

Kleinjan v. Carlton

MiLW No. 08-90781

Michigan Court of Appeals - Unpublished

Two parents in the midst of a divorce reach an agreement regarding during Court-mandated mediation. When the parties are before the Court to sign the proposed order containing the agreed terms, the Defendant/Mother had a 'change of heart' and attempted to disavow the agreement.

What to take away from this case?

There are several notable elements to absorb from this case. First, Michigan Court Rule (MCR) 3.216(a)(1) requires that all domestic relations cases must submit to mediation, unless otherwise exempted by statute or court rule(s). Parties can opt out of mediation by agreement and permission from the Court.

Second, MCR 3.216(H)(7) states:

"If a settlement is reached as a result of the mediation, to be binding, the terms of that settlement must be reduced to a signed writing by the parties or acknowledged by the parties on an audio or video recording. After a settlement has been reached, the parties shall take steps necessary to enter judgment as in the case of other settlements." (emphasis added by author)

Third, the Defendant/Mother's attempt to blame her attorney for "inadequate" legal advice during the mediation was also unsuccessful in preventing the Court from entering the proposed order. This is a crass move that will harm your relationship with your attorney and cost you credibility with the Court.

Closing Thoughts

  • Make sure you ask questions during mediation, not after it is over.

  • Do not sign a mediation agreement unless you understand every word of the document.

  • Be aware that a signed mediation agreement is binding and will probably be ratified by the Court.

  • Do not blame your lawyer for a change of heart - they can't make decisions on your behalf. They are there to advise. If you don't ask questions or take enough time to consider the proposed agreement, they can't help you.

Full opinion available here, courtesy of Justia.com

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