When a couple decides to end their relationship, they’ll have to separate before getting a divorce. One of the ways to lessen the time and expenses associated with a divorce is to create a separation agreement. A separation agreement allows the parties to agree on a number of important issues such as child support, spousal support, the division of property, and parenting time. But what happens when the parties sign a separation agreement but later can’t agree on the interpretation of what they agreed upon? This was the situation faced by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in a recent decision.
Parties reach two settlement agreements
The parties involved in the dispute had reached separation agreements twice, only to find themselves unable to agree on what they had agreed on. Both parties were looking to move forward with the agreements, and believe the agreements should be binding, but they each have their own interpretation of what they mean.
The husband and wife reached a Final Minutes of Settlement on January 7, 2020. The court stated that there is a real possibility that the parties could be so far apart in their interpretations that it could be found that an agreement is not in place.
The desired outcome is for an agreement to be in place
The court noted that there are strong reasons why an agreement should be found to be in place, if only to bring an end to the dispute. The parties have also spent a lot of money in working towards an agreement, and they could find themselves waiting for a trial date if some sense of finality is not reached.
In order to move forward, the court first looked at whether there was a binding settlement in the first place. Only then can they move to determine which interpretation of the agreement should be in place. In this case, the court was not provided with any authorities to follow, but noted the general approach requires there to be a “meeting of the minds” or “agreement on the essential terms.”
In order to get to the root of this issue, the court decided to approach the matter as it would a request for summary judgment, in which the court would ask whether there are material issues of fact or genuine issues of credibility about the intention to come to an agreement. The problem here is that neither party presented evidence about this, or even asked that question. The court found this could leave a decision vulnerable to appeal, which would note serve either party’s interest.
Can each party support their interpretation?
The court said that it would help if the husband and wife were able to support their positions by explaining the rationale behind their position compared to the other party’s. To do this, the court decided that it must hear from the parties’ lawyers before proceeding any further. Their lawyers were asked to provide preliminary submissions that can help the court determine whether there are “genuine issues requiring a trial.”
To speak with an experienced Windsor family lawyer about child custody and support modifications, call 519.973.1500, get started now or contact us online. Many of our clients are referred to us by former and current clients, as well as by lawyers, accountants and other professionals.