Officially released February 11, 2020.
In Short: (1) The standard for revocation of a post-nuptial agreement is unclear; (2) parol evidence was relevant in review of whether there was a condition precedent for an agreement to revoke a postnuptial agreement, and (3) the fact that the GAL has not personally met with the children in two years does not necessarily render her investigation invalid nor make it abuse of discretion for the trial court to follow those recommendations.
Background Facts: The parties were marred in 2006 and have two minor children. Both parties were natives of China and permanent residents of the United States. Both were highly educated.
In 2012, after consultation with counsel and disclosure of assets, liabilities and financial affidavits, the parties signed a properly acknowledged postnuptial agreement. The postnuptial agreement included a span of time during which, if a dissolution action commenced, Wife would receive, inter alia, $350,000 per year alimony for a time equal to half the length of the marriage, the marital residence, and one third of the parties’ aggregate net worth. The postnuptial agreement contained a severability clause.
Thereafter, Wife filed for divorce. The parties entered into mediation. The representations of a mediator’s website and communications included: that the parties would maintain control, that the process and all documents and statements would be entirely confidential, and that either party could leave the mediation at any time without sacrificing any rights.
The parties again exchanged full disclosure of assets and liabilities and financial affidavits. With the assistance of the mediator, with Wife having obtained advice of counsel but Husband not yet having done the same, the parties signed a revocation agreement regarding the postnuptial agreement. Husband signed the revocation agreement with the understanding that it would only be effective if the mediation resulted in a settlement, and that mediation and the revocation agreement were an all-or-nothing process. The mediation agreement itself stated that all documents prepared or presented during the mediation were to remain confidential for all purposes, including judicial proceedings.
During mediation, the mediator also prepared a proposed parenting plan. That plan was filed with the court, but the parties were never canvassed, and it was never incorporated into any order of the court.
A dissolution trial took place over the course of eighteen days. The trial court entered orders of joint legal custody with final decision making to Husband.
The trial court acknowledged that there was little legal authority regarding the requirements for effective revocation of a postnuptial agreement, and subjected it to the same scrutiny that would be applied in determining enforceability of a postnuptial agreement. The Bedrick v. Bedrick, 300 Conn. 691 (2011) standard was cited by the trial court. The trial court found that Husband lacked legal counsel at the time he signed the revocation and had told the mediator that he had been unable to reach his lawyer during the six-day time period he had the revocation agreement before he signed it. Husband further relied on the representations of the mediator that the documents would only be used if a complete set of terms was reached to settle the entire case. The trial court concluded that the revocation agreement was unenforceable and proceeded to consider the underlying post-nuptial agreement, which it determined was enforceable.
Wife appealed the Judgment of dissolution, arguing that (1) the trial court improperly declined to enforce the parties’ purported written revocation of postnuptial agreement, (2) incorrectly determined that the postnuptial agreement was enforceable, and (3) improperly awarded joint legal custody with Husband having final decision making regarding the minor children.
Regarding the failure to enforce revocation agreement Wife argued that the revocation agreement should not have been subject to the same special scrutiny as enforcement of a post-nuptial agreement, and even if it were subject to such scrutiny, it should have been enforced. The Supreme Court declined to determine whether special scrutiny should have been applied to the revocation agreement, holding that even without such scrutiny the trial court had sufficient reason to deem it invalid. The trial court had viewed the issue through a lens of misrepresentation by the mediator, but the Appellate Court held it to be an issue of contract, where the enforceability of the revocation was conditioned on a final resolution being reached. The parol evidence rule did not prohibit the use of extrinsic evidence to establish the existence of a condition precedent to the formation of a contract.
Regarding the trial court’s determination that the postnuptial agreement was enforceable because it was fair and equitable at time of execution and not unconscionable at time of dissolution, Wife claimed she signed it under duress of threat of divorce and that what she received under it is grossly disproportionate to what she would otherwise be awarded. The Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion. The trial court was within its rights not to credit Wife’s testimony as to duress. The complicated nature and length of the post-nuptial agreement did not necessarily demonstrate that Wife did not understand it. The trial court was within its discretion to determine that the post-nuptial agreement was not unconscionable.
Regarding Wife’s claim of error as to the custody orders, Wife claimed that the trial court improperly relied upon the testimony of the GAL, in light of the testimony of the GAL that she had not seen the children in two years. The GAL had been in frequent contact with the parties, had attended depositions and court proceedings, reviewed the record, obtained information from schools, and spoken with and reviewed the reports of the forensic custody evaluator who had met with the children on multiple occasions. The Supreme Court held that there was nothing in the record to indicate that the GAL did not conduct an investigation into the children’s best interests. It further found no abuse of discretion in the decision.
The Judgment was affirmed.