Reconciliation Does Not Void Prior Marital Settlement Agreement
January 7, 2016
In an August 31, 2015, Non-precedential Opinion, Semulka v. Semulka, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that the parties’ reconciliation did not void a previously executed divorce settlement agreement. Since the agreement continued to be enforceable, husband was required to comply with the agreement, including a payment of $40,000 to wife.
Husband and wife were married in 1992, separated in 2006, and in 2007, executed a divorce settlement agreement. The agreement provided that husband would pay wife $40,000, in installments, and the parties would share the cost of their children’s post-secondary education.
After the parties executed the agreement, husband moved into wife’s residence, and the parties lived together from December 2009 to November 2010. When the parties separated a second time, husband refused to comply with the 2007 divorce settlement agreement. Husband asserted that Pennsylvania should adopt the doctrine of “abrogation,” adopted by other states. Under the doctrine of “abrogation,” unperformed portions of marital settlement agreements become void when the parties reconcile. In the alternative, husband argued that since the parties reconciled, wife abandoned her right to enforce the terms of the agreement.
The Court disagreed with husband. Husband was held responsible for the entire $40,000 payment, required husband to pay 50% of the children’s post-secondary education expenses, and required husband to pay wife approximately $2,200 for reimbursement of wife’s counsel fees related to enforcing the divorce settlement agreement.
In support of its decision, the Court stated that “the determination of marital property rights through settlement agreements has long been permitted, and even encouraged.” Divorce agreements are governed by the law of contracts. In relying on prior case law, the court refused to join other states and rejected husband’s argument that reconciliation abrogated the agreement.
The Court also disagreed with husband’s claim that wife abandoned her rights under the agreement. The agreement contained language that neither party was required to continually demand performance in order to reserve the right to enforce the agreement at a later date.
The Opinion in Semulka v. Semulka is consistent with other Pennsylvania court opinions, which strongly favors the enforceability of divorce settlement agreements and underlines the importance of having a well drafted divorce agreement.