Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
by
Respondent Simran Singh (Mother) and Petitioner Gunjit Singh (Father) separated in January of 2012. They entered into a settlement agreement which resolved all issues arising from their marriage, including custody and visitation matters involving their two children, then aged eleven and two. Pursuant to that agreement, Mother received primary custody, and the parties consented to submit any future disputes regarding child support or visitation to a mutually agreed-upon arbitrator, specifically providing that his or her decision would "be binding and non-appealable." The family court approved the agreement and granted the parties a divorce in February of 2013. Approximately nine months later, Father filed an action in family court seeking modification of custody, visitation, and child support, alleging Mother had violated a provision of the agreement when she failed to return to South Carolina with the children after embarking on a cross-country tour as a motivational speaker. From January through August of 2014, four family court judges issued decisions— one dismissing Father’s complaint due to the parties' decision to arbitrate; a second issuing a consent order to arbitrate; and two approving amended agreements to arbitrate. The arbitrator issued a "partial" arbitration award finding a substantial and material change of circumstance affecting the welfare and custody of the minor children, and awarding Father temporary custody. A thirty-two-page final arbitration award was issued the next month, awarding custody to Father. A fifth family court judge issued an order in January 2015 confirming both the partial and final arbitration awards. Thereafter, Mother filed five separate Rule 60(b)(4), SCRCP, motions to vacate all the orders approving the parties' agreements to arbitrate. The court of appeals issued its unanimous decision in December of 2019, holding that the parties could not divest the family court of jurisdiction to determine issues relating to custody, visitation, and child support. One month prior, another panel of the court of appeals issued a decision in Kosciusko v. Parham, 836 S.E.2d 362 (Ct. App. 2019), holding the family court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to approve the binding arbitration of children's issues. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari, and affirmed as modified, the appellate court's order. View "Singh v. Singh" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the trial court granting Plaintiff's motion to vacate an arbitration award and denying Defendant's corresponding application to confirm the award, holding that the arbitrator did not exceed her authority or manifestly disregard the law, but the inclusion of issues related to child support in the award was improper.Before the parties were married they executed a premarital agreement. Years later, Plaintiff brought this action to dissolve the marriage, and the parties executed a binding agreement to arbitrate the dissolution action. At issue was the validity of the arbitrator's award dividing the equity in the parties' marital home and assigning responsibility for certain expenses related to child support. The trial court granted Plaintiff's motion to vacate the portion of the arbitration award. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the trial court erred in ruling that the arbitrator's award exceed the scope of the parties' submission; (2) any error in distributing the equity in the marital home would not permit a court to vacate the arbitration award; and (3) because Connecticut law prohibits the inclusion of issues related to child support in arbitration awards, this portion of the award is reversed. View "Blondeau v. Baltierra" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court ordering Eryn Winegeart to sell real estate she owned jointly with her former spouse, Weston Winegeart, holding that the court did not err by ordering Eryn to sign a purchase agreement signed by a third party.After the parties underwent mediation, Weston signed an agreement with a real-estate agent to list the jointly owned real estate, and the listing agreement included a commission for the realtor. After the third party signed the purchase agreement, Eryn refused to sign it, asserting that during mediation Weston had orally agreed to sell the property without paying for a realtor. The circuit court found that the parties had not entered into an enforceable oral agreement in regard to realtor fees and ordered Eryn to sign the purchase agreement. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err by entering its order requiring Eryn to sign the purchase agreement. View "Winegeart v. Winegeart" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed an action seeking equitable distribution of the parties’ marital assets and child support. Plaintiff and Defendant agreed to arbitrate the action under North Carolina’s Family Law Arbitration Act. Plaintiff and Defendant entered into an equitable distribution arbitration award by consent. The trial court confirmed the award. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to vacate arbitration award and set aside order and motion to engage in discovery on the basis of Plaintiff’s alleged fraud. The trial court denied Plaintiff’s motion for leave to engage in discovery. The court of appeals dismissed Plaintiff’s appeal, concluding that Plaintiff had no right to immediately appeal the trial court’s order denying discovery and that the trial court had no discretion to order post-confirmation discovery in this case. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Plaintiff had a right to appeal the trial court’s denial of his motion to engage in discovery; and (2) the trial court had the discretion to order discovery in this case. View "Stokes v. Crumpton" on Justia Law

by
Glen and Danielle Rollins divorced in December 2013, and they agreed at that time to submit to binding arbitration of their respective claims to certain furniture and furnishings in the marital home. The arbitrator rendered an award in July 2014, and Glen promptly moved for judicial confirmation. While his motion was pending, in August 2014, the trial court ordered Danielle to account for some of the furniture and furnishings that the arbitrator had awarded to Glen that he could not find. Dissatisfied with her accounting, Glen filed a motion to hold Danielle in contempt of the August 2014 order. In April 2015, the trial court found Danielle was in willful contempt of the August 2014 order in at least one respect, and it entered an initial contempt order that directed Danielle to show cause why she ought not be incarcerated for her contempt. Danielle appealed the initial contempt order, both by filing an application for discretionary review with the Supreme Court, and by filing a notice of direct appeal. In May 2015, the Supreme Court denied the application for discretionary review. The direct appeal was not docketed until November 2015. In December 2015, the Supreme Court dismissed the direct appeal, explaining that any appeal of the initial contempt order had to come by application, and noting that it already had denied an application for discretionary review. In the meantime, the trial court held a final hearing on the motion for contempt and entered a final order on November 24, 2015, finding Danielle in contempt of the August 2014 order in additional respects, directing her to immediately surrender any property awarded to Glen, ordering her to pay Glen for any such property that had gone missing or was damaged, and ordering her to pay fines for 34 separate instances of contempt. The trial court also awarded Glen attorney fees. Danielle then applied for discretionary review of the final contempt order, and the Supreme Court granted her application. Danielle argued that the trial court was without jurisdiction to enter a final contempt order while her direct appeal from the initial contempt order still was pending with the Supreme Court. The Supreme agreed, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Rollins v. Rollins" on Justia Law

by
Before they were married, Wife and Husband entered a prenuptial agreement. Approximately ten years later, Wife brought a marital dissolution action against Husband. In accordance with an agreement to arbitrate in the prenuptial agreement, the trial court ordered the parties to proceed to arbitration on the matter of the sale of the parties’ residence. The arbitrator issued a partial award and then a final award. The trial court confirmed the partial award and confirmed in part, modified in part, and vacated in part the final arbitration award. Defendant appealed. The trial court subsequently entered judgment dissolving the marriage, allocating property, interpreting the prenuptial agreement, and deciding all pending motions. Defendant filed a second appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court properly applied Conn. Gen. Stat. 46b-66(c) to the agreement to arbitrate contained within the prenuptial agreement; (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Defendant’s motion for leave to file an amended answer and cross complaint; and (3) the arbitrator did not exceed her authority by issuing orders in contravention of the express terms of the prenuptial agreement. View "LaFrance v. Lodmell" on Justia Law

by
Tracy and Jose married in 1996. They later separated. Tracy filed a petition for dissolution in 2011. In 2012, the superior court ordered temporary spousal support. The parties decided not to further litigate the case in the superior court and stipulated to the appointment of attorney Perkovich as judge pro tempore, under California Rules of Court 2.830-2.834. After Perkovich had served for two years, Tracy learned that Perkovich had not disclosed “in writing or on the record” professional relationships she had with lawyers in the proceeding, as required by the Rules. Tracy filed in the superior court a statement seeking disqualification. Perkovich failed to respond in accordance with statutory procedure. The presiding judge ordered her disqualified, holding that she was deemed to have consented to disqualification by her failure to file a consent or verified answer. The case was reassigned; discovery proceeded. The court delayed a hearing on Tracy’s motion to set aside orders made by Perkovich. The court of appeal held that Perkovich’s failure to contest the claims means that those factual allegations must be taken as true and that she was automatically disqualified. Her rulings are all void; the settlement agreement signed before her disqualification was tainted and may not be enforced. Perkovich’s conduct did not taint the proceedings before the superior court judge who replaced her. View "Hayward v. Super Court" on Justia Law

by
Husband and Wife signed an agreement to arbitrate the issues in their divorce under the Family Law Arbitration Act (FLAA). The family law arbitrator entered conclusions of law providing for legal and physical custody of the parties’ child to be granted to Wife, Husband to pay certain child support obligation, the division of the marital property, Husband to pay certain spousal maintenance costs, and Husband to pay $95,000 of Wife’s attorney’s fees. The trial court entered judgment in accordance with the arbitrator’s decision. Husband appealed the arbitrator’s attorney fee award. Wife cross-appealed other issues. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) in the appellate consideration of an FLAA award, the proper standard of review is the same standard of appellate review that applies to the review of trial court decisions in marriage dissolution cases; and (2) in this case, the family law arbitrator’s award satisfies that standard, and Husband failed to establish that the award of attorney’s fees is not supported by the arbitrator’s findings. View "Masters v. Masters" on Justia Law

by
Gilda filed for dissolution of marriage. She and former husband, Murray, agreed to resolve property and support issues through mediation, during which they purportedly exchanged financial disclosure declarations mandated by the Family Code. They executed a marital settlement agreement, which was incorporated into a stipulated judgment. Shortly after entry of judgment, Gilda learned that Murray recently sold a company he founded during the marriage. In the settlement agreement, Gilda relinquished her community share of the company for $10 million. Murray received approximately $75 million from the sale. Gilda sought to set aside the judgment on grounds of fraud and duress and served discovery on Murray requesting the financial disclosure declarations that were exchanged prior to entry of judgment. Murray refused to produce the declarations, asserting they were covered by the mediation confidentiality statutes, insofar as they constituted writings that were prepared for the purpose of, in the course of, or pursuant to, mediation. (Evid. Code, 1119(b).) The trial court a motion to compel on mediation confidentiality grounds. The court of appeal vacated, noting the Family Code’s stated public policy to promote “full and accurate disclosure of all assets and liabilities” in dissolution proceedings View "Lappe v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

by
Stephanie Lee and Benjamin Redus were the parents and joint managing conservators of their minor daughter. A 2007 order adjudicating parentage gave Stephanie the exclusive right to designate the child's primary residence. Benjamin sought to modify that order. The parties executed a mediated settlement agreement (MSA) modifying the 2007 order. Stephanie moved to enter judgment on the MSA, but Benjamin withdrew his consent to the MSA, arguing that it was not in the best interest of the child. The district court refused to enter judgment on the MSA, concluding that it was not in the best interest of the child. Stephanie unsuccessfully petitioned the court of appeals for a writ of mandamus ordering the trial court to enter judgment on the MSA. The Supreme Court conditionally granted the writ of mandamus, holding (1) a trial court may not deny a motion to enter judgment on a properly executed MSA on the grounds that the MSA was not in a child's best interest; and (2) because the MSA in this case met the Family Code's requirements for a binding agreement, the trial court abused its discretion by denying the motion to enter judgment on the MSA.View "In re Lee" on Justia Law