Richardson v. Knight (4th DCA)

At the parties’ divorce trial, the husband’s attorney advised the trial judge that the parties had reached a settlement agreement.  The attorney then read the terms of the agreement into the record in open court, and the wife’s attorney agreed that the terms had been conveyed correctly.  The trial court entered a final judgment incorporating the terms of the agreement and attaching a copy of the hearing transcript.

The husband then sought to set aside the agreement, and the trial court denied the motion.

The Fourth DCA reversed, finding that the settlement agreement was not enforceable because it had not been reduced to writing or accompanied by sworn testimony unequivocally showing that the parties’ themselves assented to the terms.

Although the final judgment stated that the trial court had heard sworn testimony, the District Court found that the record clearly showed that the trial judge “never asked the parties on the record if they agreed to and understood the terms of the [settlement agreement], or if they had discussed the terms with their attorneys.”

The District Court held that marital settlement agreements read in open court require “more than a mere recitation of the terms by the parties’ attorneys to be valid and enforceable.”  In such situations, the trial court “must obtain clear and unequivocal assent to the [agreement] from each party on the record, and must also confirm that each party has discussed the [agreement] with their attorney and fully understands the terms.”