Verbal Marital Settlement Agreements: Are They Enforceable Under Maryland Law?

Today, we’re blogging — in part — about a libel case. Not because of libel law, but because of what it says about the formation of valid and enforceable oral contracts – a legal concept that can play a major role if you (or your spouse) claim that the two of you have a verbal marital settlement agreement that governs key issues in your divorce. Whether you have questions about enforcing an MSA or some other aspect of divorce law, seeking advice from an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer is the best way to ensure you’re getting reliable answers.

In the aforementioned libel case, R.J.’s lawyer sent T.H. an email about a purported verbal agreement settling the lawsuit. T.H., however, never replied stating that he assented to any deal, so the case proceeded to a hearing. At the hearing, T.J. presented letters and emails he and his attorney sent to prove the existence of a verbal agreement that, according to T.J., occurred during a conversation with an insurance adjuster.

R.H., who did not even bring counsel, simply told the court that he “never even spoke to” T.J.’s attorney about settling the case and the parties had no agreement, verbal or written.

The trial court and the appellate court agreed with R.H., pointing out that T.J.’s evidence consisted only of emails requesting that R.H. “please forward your proposed Settlement Agreement at your earliest convenience” and a letter seeking “to confirm that the . . . case has been resolved” and that R.H. would draft the agreement document. That wasn’t enough, as T.J.’s evidence never proved that R.H. ever confirmed the premise of T.J.’s correspondence; namely, that a settlement – verbal or written – existed at all.

As noted above, R.H.’s lawsuit may have been a libel action, but the subject matter of the appeal primarily regarded oral contract formation; i.e., when parties do (or don’t) have a valid and enforceable verbal agreement.

This matters in the divorce context because, in Maryland, the law allows both written and verbal MSAs, meaning that the same sort of “Is there or isn’t there a binding verbal agreement?” question at the core of this libel case could also be at the heart of your divorce case if you have to litigate the existence of an oral contract.

Proving that an Enforceable Verbal MSA Exists

Proving a verbal MSA requires having ample evidence of several key elements, including an offer and an acceptance of that offer. In other words, there must be evidence that both of you “ratified” (or consented to) the terms. The spouse seeking to enforce a verbal MSA must prove exactly what each spouse has agreed to – i.e., what you’re getting, what you’re giving up, what they’re getting, and what they’re giving up.

While verbal MSAs are legal and potentially enforceable in Maryland, written agreements are preferable. You’re much less likely to experience disputes about one (or both) spouse’s rights or obligations under the agreement if the terms are recorded on paper. And, if a dispute arises, courts are much more likely to find that a binding contract exists and enforce it if it is reduced to a written document.

Whether you’re negotiating, drafting, executing, or seeking to enforce a marital settlement agreement, you can enhance your odds of leaving with a stronger outcome if you have skilled legal counsel on your side. The knowledgeable Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC have many years of experience helping spouses litigate divorce actions or resolve their divorce disputes through alternate means that eliminate the need for contested divorce litigation. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation to find out more.

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