Authority to Settle

A recent case in which one party sought to enforce a purported settlement demonstrates the difficulties that arise when there is no signed agreement. In the unreported ( non-precedential) case of Galdo v. Hagarty, the parties were both represented by counsel during a dispute about the payment of child support and college expenses for one of their children. The father had filed an appeal of an order which required him to pay a percentage of college expenses and the mother filed an application for enforcement of the order. Thereafter, the parties agreed to explore a settlement and proceeded to negotiate through their counsel. Over a course of months the attorneys exchanged correspondence as well as emails. The mother received copies of many of the communications. 

Subsequently, the mother’s attorney faxed to the father’s attorney a proposed settlement. Father’s attorney then emailed a revised agreement  the next day. Twelve minutes later, mother’s attorney sent an email agreeing to the proposal and asking that Father’s attorney confirm that there was a settlement. Approximately an hour later, Father’s attorney sent a confirming email.    Father then took no further action on the appeal and it was later dismissed. Father then made an application to terminate child support for one of the children, which was not opposed by the mother.

 

Several months later,  the mother made an application to vacate the order terminating the child support, and enforcing the college expenses order which was the subject of the earlier appeal and settlement. She argued that there had been no settlement agreement that was reached. The father replied that there was in fact a settlement which was evidenced by the communications between the lawyers as well as the conduct of the parties after those communications. The father made a cross application for enforcement of the settlement agreement. The trial judge denied the father’s application for enforcement of a settlement and enforced the earlier order which required the father to pay a percentage of the college expenses.

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