Some Marriage Contracts Are Better Than Others

Joel and Pamela Stevens separated after 16 years of marriage when Pamela discovered that Joel was having an affair.

After some time had passed, Pamela agreed that she would give their marriage another chance if Joel agreed to enter into a domestic contract...just in case the reconciliation didn't work out.

During the marriage Pamela had sunk $2 million cash into the couple's home. The $2 million had been a gift and Pamela wanted to make sure that if the marriage went sour again she would receive her $2 million back when the house sold.

Pamela also agreed, if the marriage ended, Joel would receive one half of the value of the home as his share.

Pamela's lawyer wrote to Joel's lawyer clearly setting out these terms. Pamela's lawyer also sent a draft agreement ...and this is where the trouble started!

The agreement called for Joel to get the whole proceeds of the sale of the house (not one half). This mistake in the domestic contract would result in Joel getting in excess of $1.5 million more than Pamela had intended.

Joel's lawyer saw the mistake and pointed the error out to Joel, but in the end, neither Joel, nor his lawyer did anything to alert Pamela or her lawyer. The domestic contract was signed in October, 2006. Joel and his lawyer were aware of the mistake, while Pamela and her lawyer were not!

As you would have guessed, some time after October, 2006, Joel and Pamela separated...again, and the matter came up before a Judge. Was Joel entitled to rely on the contract that both parties had signed?

On the one hand, each party had gone to their lawyer before signing. If Pamela was out more than $1.5 million why should Joel have to pay? Why not have Pam's lawyer pay, after all the lawyer made the mistake.

On the other hand, the mistake was a clear mistake and Joel and his lawyer knew it. Why should Joel benefit to the tune of $1.5 million from an honest mistake?

The Judge hearing the case had no difficulty in finding against Joel.

Lessons to be learned? It is absolutely fundamental to any agreement that both parties are talking about the same things. In this case Joel knew his wife was talking about a one half interest in the house, not the whole house. You don't get to take advantage of someone's honest error.

Put another way, if you agree to buy a Chevrolet and the clerk by mistake, in preparing the sales contract types in BMW, you are either going to be driving a Chevrolet, or you are going to be walking.

The Ross Firm has lawyers experienced in domestic contracts.

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