GA Supreme Court Vacates Divorce Due to Inadequate Settlement Terms

A recent case from the Supreme Court of Georgia highlights how critically important it is for divorcing spouses to address all of the necessary terms and follow all required procedures when seeking to finalize their divorce. In the case of Rasheed v. Sarwat, 797 S.E.2d 454 (2017), the Court vacated a divorce decree nearly a year after the trial court issued its order purporting to dissolve the parties’ marriage.

An Unsigned 20-Page Settlement Agreement and a Two‑Page Divorce Decree

The divorce appears to have proceeded, for the most part, as many contested divorces do. Following an initial mediation session at which the husband and wife agreed to certain terms, through their attorneys the parties continued negotiations via telephone calls and email correspondence. After approximately three weeks of negotiating, the parties reached a full agreement. The attorneys on both sides contacted the trial court regarding settlement, and the wife’s attorney agreed to draft a settlement agreement incorporating the negotiated terms.

However, when the 20-page settlement agreement was ready for execution, the parties’ disagreements resumed. Communications broke down, and the husband never signed the agreement. Approximately six months later, the wife filed a Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement seeking to end the parties’ marriage on the terms of the unsigned agreement.

The trial court granted the motion; and, upon doing so, prepared a two-page settlement enforcement order purporting to summarize the couple’s negotiated terms. It subsequently entered a final divorce decree incorporating the terms of the two-page order.

Settlement Terms Inadequate to Grant Divorce

The husband appealed the outcome at trial. In doing so, he presented two arguments that the Supreme Court considered worthy of attention: First, he argued that there was no settlement agreement to be enforced. Second, he argued that the trial court’s settlement enforcement order was so incomplete as to render it inadequate to support the parties’ divorce.

On the first issue, the Supreme Court ruled that it lacked the information required to render a decision. While the trial court instructed the wife’s attorney to draft a proposed order, “reflecting prior agreements made by the parties in mediation and in exchanged emails,” the trial court’s final order did not reference the parties’ communications. As a result, the Justices, “[could not] determine whether the trial court correctly set forth terms corresponding to the discussions of the parties[,] or whether the trial court properly concluded that a settlement occurred in the first place.”

However, on the second issue, the Supreme Court ruled in the husband’s favor. The Justices noted numerous deficiencies in the trial court’s two-page order that rendered it inadequate:

  • While the issue of visitation was “cursorily addressed,” the order ignored the issue of custody altogether.
  • The order lacked a permanent parenting plan as required by Section 19-1-1 of the Georgia Code.
  • The property settlement terms, “appear[ed] to be incomplete with regard to property holdings, or, at the very least, require[d] a great deal of inferences from unspecified sources to determine who actually owns what, what must be sold, and how any proceeds should be split between the parties.”

As a result of these issues, the Supreme Court ruled that the trial court’s order omitted “fundamental considerations” and could not form the basis for a final divorce decree. It reversed the trial court’s order, vacated the spouses’ divorce and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Schedule an Initial Divorce Consultation at Stearns‑Montgomery & Proctor

When seeking to end your marriage, it is critical to seek the representation of an experienced divorce attorney who can help you understand your options and pursue a complete and final resolution. If you are contemplating a divorce and would like more information about the process, call our Georgia law offices at (678) 971-3413 or send us a message online to schedule a confidential consultation.