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S.P. v. N.P.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

August 31, 2017

S.P., III APPELLANT
v.
N.P. APPELLEE

         FROM THE 16TH DISTRICT COURT OF DENTON COUNTY TRIAL COURT NO. 15-07953-16

          PANEL: LIVINGSTON, C.J.; GABRIEL and SUDDERTH, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION[1]

          TERRIE LIVINGSTON, CHIEF JUSTICE

         This appeal concerns an "Agreed Final Decree of Divorce" that the trial court signed after appellant S.P., III and appellee N.P. entered into a mediated settlement agreement (MSA). In five issues, appellant contends that the final decree is erroneous because it contains material terms additional to and contrary to the MSA, that the trial court erred by not requiring the parties to arbitrate disputes about the MSA's terms before signing the final decree, that the trial court reversibly erred by "effectively emancipating the minor child, " and that certain findings made by the trial court are erroneous. We conclude that the trial court erred by not ordering arbitration under the MSA, and we therefore reverse the trial court's judgment.

         Background Facts

         Appellant and appellee married in 1993. They had two children during their marriage. In September 2015, appellee filed a petition for divorce. In her petition, she alleged, among other facts, that the parties had a child who was born in September 1998 and was therefore still a minor, and she asked the trial court to enter temporary orders concerning the child and concerning the parties' property. Appellant filed a counterpetition for divorce and likewise requested temporary orders. The parties signed a letter agreement that established temporary joint managing conservatorship of the child along with agreements concerning access to the child, child support, marital property, and spousal support.

         The trial court referred the parties to mediation and appointed a mediator. In December 2015, the parties signed the MSA, which they agreed was comprehensive, binding, and irrevocable. The MSA contained the following provisions:

• the parties would be joint managing conservators of the child, and the decision to visit "either parent [was] left to the discretion of the . . . child";
• appellant would "carry health insurance for the child and [would] pay 100% of uninsured medical expenses";
• appellee would be awarded certain furniture and furnishings along with certain accounts;
• appellant would pay $55, 000 in cash to appellee on the date of the divorce;
• appellee would be awarded a 2013 Lexus, for which appellant agreed to make monthly lease payments and a balloon payment at the end of the lease;
• neither party would pay child support;
• appellant would be awarded two residences, two automobiles, and several accounts;
• the parties would "partition income and liabilities for the tax year 2015";
• appellant would pay attorney's fees of $5, 000 to appellee, and otherwise, each party would be responsible for its own attorney's fees;
• the parties would agree to mutual injunctions in accordance with a Denton County standing order;
• appellant would pay appellee contractual alimony of $5, 000 per month for thirty-six months, and such payments would be included in appellee's taxable income and would be tax deductible by appellant;
• all claims between the parties not governed by the MSA or by the "order to be entered pursuant to" the MSA ...

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