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Wife Not Entitled to Add Overlooked Matters to Settlement Agreement

Wife Not Entitled to Add Overlooked Matters to Settlement Agreement

In a recent Ontario case, a wife applied unsuccessfully to have Minutes of Settlement set aside even though certain items – agreed to in principle by her and the husband – were overlooked when the final agreement was reduced to writing.

In January of 2011 the wife and husband had a pre-trial conference which culminated in them both signing Minutes of Settlement. The signing had taken place at nearly 6 p.m., with the pre-trial judge waiting in his chambers for the parties to come to terms. The wife later claimed she felt pressured in that atmosphere, and it caused her to overlook raising two issues which had been discussed at the pre-trial.

The first matter involved the wife essentially wanting confirmation that she was not prevented from bringing dependant’s claim (under the Family Law Act) in connection with a motor vehicle accident involving the husband which rendered him a quadriplegic. (At the time of the accident, the wife was still married to him; they separated later and he re-married.) The wife wanted to make sue she could assert dependant’s status to bring a civil suit against the insurer, and wanted the Minutes to reflect this.

Her second concern arose because the settlement agreement did not explicitly require the husband to take steps to relieve the wife’s obligation to pursue an immigration sponsorship agreement, which she had entered into for the husband’s benefit. Originally, the husband had agreed to indemnify the wife for any expenses she incurred as part of that sponsorship process. The Minutes of Settlement omitted reference to this.

The wife only realized these two items had been overlooked after she received a copy of the Minutes of Settlement from her lawyer a few days after the pre-trial conference. Her lawyer then wrote to the husband’s lawyer to request that they be amended to correct the mistake, but the lawyer refused.

The wife was therefore forced to bring the matter to court. She claimed that she had been under pressure to finalize the settlement before the judge’s 6 p.m. “quitting time”, and that the Minutes should be rectified to reflect the parties intentions.

Unfortunately, the court refused her request. It observed that in connection with the civil action arising from the husband’s motor vehicle accident, the wife could always apply to have herself added to the lawsuit, and she had indicated that she was prepared to do so and incur the related costs, if necessary. Nothing the current version of the Minutes of Settlement actively prevented her from doing this.

In connection with the immigration sponsorship agreement, the wife had been unable to specify the specific steps that she wanted the husband to take in order to relieve her of the obligations she assumed under it. Her request was too vague.

More to the point, the court rejected the wife’s claim that the Minutes of Settlement had been signed under duress or in a situation involving undue influence. Its terms were not unconscionable. Therefore – and despite commenting that it saw no good reason for the husband’s refusal to consent to the amendments in the first place – the court declared that the Minutes would stand. The wife’s request was dismissed, but the court clarified that she could be added to the civil action if she wished, for the purpose of asserting any dependent’s relief claim under the Family Law Act.

For the full-text of the decision, see:  Davis v. Hutchinson, 2011 ONSC 1492 (CanLII)

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.