When Mediation Fails After an Agreement Has Been Reached

            You have been to mediation with your attorney. The mediator helped both parties reach an agreement on all the issues in the divorce case, including division of personal property, division of debt, determination on what to do with the marital home, and all issues involving the children. The first question asked by many clients is “What’s next?”

            The first thing to happen is that the mediator will record the agreement. Most mediators do this on a tape, but a handful will type out the settlement agreement. If the mediator records the agreement on a digital recorder, then a transcript or copy of the recording is forwarded to both attorneys for the parties. If the settlement agreement is typed out, the parties and their attorneys review it for accuracy and then sign the document. This written document then is incorporated and merged into a Consent Judgment of Divorce. Both parties state under oath that each have entered into the agreement voluntarily and knowing that the matter could have gone to trial where the judge could award more, award less or about the same as the agreement reached.

            Reaching this agreement at mediation does not end the divorce. One attorney, typically the plaintiff’s attorney, will draft a Consent Judgment of Divorce based on the agreement that the parties reached. The document is exchanged back and forth as the attorneys and parties ensure that the language of the proposed judgment reflects the agreement accurately. On the day scheduled for trial, the court will hear the testimony of the parties that provided the reasons for the divorce and that a final settlement has been reached by the parties. There is a date certain issued by the court for the parties to return a judgment, if it is not ready on the scheduled date for trial.

            But what happens when one party during this process decides that he or she will not sign the judgment. The refusing party believes that refusing to sign the judgment will halt or slow the process down and in effect delay the divorce. However, that party is mistaken. In Michigan, when one party abruptly changes his or her mind after reaching a mediation settlement, the other party can request the court to enter the judgment without the refusing party’s signature if the judgment complies with mediation settlement.

            When this happens, the judges in southeast Michigan, which our attorney has appeared before, have entered the judgment after questioning the refusing party’s attorney to determine if the proposed judgment does comply with the settlement. This is an awkward moment for our attorney as an officer of the court, because as an officer of the court, she must be truthful with the court while advocating for the client. Often, the reasons provided for refusing to sign a judgment have nothing to do with language but have been based on another motive. But when there is a dispute over the language, it is resolved by the judge and the judgment enters without one party’s signature.

            If you are going through the divorce process without an attorney and are about to enter mediation, call our office for assistance. We know how to guide you through the process and how to assist you when the other party decides to back out. It is not too late to obtain the assistance of an attorney who knows how to redefine family in amicable ways.

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