Wife Not Entitled to Add Overlooked Matters to a Separation Agreement

In the case of Davis v. Hutchinson, a wife unsuccessfully applied to have minutes of a settlement set aside even though certain items, which were agreed to in principle by her and the husband, were overlooked when the final agreement was put into writing.

In January of 2011, the wife and husband had a pre-trial conference that ended 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.  Later, the wife claimed that she felt pressured in that atmosphere and it caused her to overlook raising two issues that had been discussed at the pre-trial.

The first issue involved the wife wanting confirmation that she was not prevented from bringing a dependant’s claim under the Family Law Act in connection with a motor vehicle accident the husband had that rendered him a quadriplegic.  At the time of the accident, the wife was still married to him and it wasn’t until later that they separated, and the husband remarried.  The wife wanted to ensure that she could assert dependant’s status to bring a civil suit against the insurer and wanted the minutes to reflect this.

The wife’s 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 reimburse the wife for any expenses she incurred as part of that sponsorship process, however, the minutes of settlement omitted reference to this.

It was not until the wife received a copy of the minutes of settlement from her lawyer that she realized these two items had been overlooked.  Her lawyer then wrote to the husband’s lawyer to request that they be amended to correct the mistake, but the husband’s lawyer refused, and the wife was therefore forced to bring the matter to court.

The wife 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, observing that in connection with the civil action, the wife could always apply to have herself added to the lawsuit and incur the related costs if necessary – nothing in 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 her obligations, therefore 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, nor were the terms were unconscionable.  Therefore, and despite commenting that it saw no good reason for the husband’s refusal to consent to the amendments, 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 dependant’s relief claim under the Family Law Act.