Custody, Support & Parenting-Time Order Properly Entered Without Mother’s Signature

by: Matt Newburg

01/26/2016 10:22 AM EST
  family law  

A custody, child support and parenting time order based on the parties’ signed mediation agreement was properly entered by the trial judge, even though the mother disavowed the agreement and refused to sign the order, the Michigan Court of Appeals has decided.

In Kleinjan v. Carlton, the parties had a child together, but were not married. The father filed a complaint requesting legal and physical custody of the child, child support and supervised parenting time for the mother. The parties and their lawyers resolved their issues through domestic relations mediation, and the father’s attorney incorporated their mutual understanding into a handwritten agreement, which everyone signed. The father’s attorney drafted a proposed order, the parties signed it and it was given to the trial judge. At a settlement conference to enter the order, the mother repudiated the mediation agreement and refused to sign the order. She insisted that she was not adequately advised by her lawyer and could obtain a better result with a different attorney. She asked the trial court to adjourn the proceedings so she could hire a new lawyer, but the trial court denied her request. When questioned by the trial judge, the mother: 1) admitted that she participated in mediation and signed the agreement, 2) acknowledged she had a change of heart after signing the agreement and 3) believed the agreement was not in the best interests of the child. 

Despite the mother’s objections, the trial judge entered the order without her signature.

On appeal, she argued the order should not have been entered without her signature and that her due process rights had been violated. 

The Court of Appeals rejected these arguments. “The premise of [the mother’s] argument … is that the signed, handwritten mediation agreement is not binding, and that she can disavow the agreement by refusing to sign the proposed order that incorporated its terms,” the court explained.

However, neither the court rules nor case law supported the mother’s argument, the Court of Appeals said. According to the court, a trial court could enter the order based on the signed mediation agreement, despite the mother’s attempt to disavow the agreement and her refusal to sign the order. 

The mother “is bound by the terms of the signed, written mediation agreement,” the Court of Appeals said. “She cannot simply disavow the agreement, … nor can she dispute it based on her change in heart. Thus, [her] due process claim fails to the extent it is based on the trial court’s entry of the order without her signature.”

Nor did the trial court act improperly by denying the mother’s request for an adjournment, so she could find a new attorney, the Court of Appeals said. According to the court, this request was “not based on good cause, but on the desire to achieve a better outcome.” The mother was not entitled to a new lawyer to contest the legality of an order entered without her signature. This argument, the court said, was “based on the erroneous assumption that she is not bound by her signature on the handwritten mediation agreement, which the contested order incorporates.”

The Court of Appeals also rejected the mother’s claim that she was denied an opportunity to be heard. The trial court “gave her multiple opportunities to articulate her objections to entry of the order,” the court said.

“For these reasons, the trial court did not err by entering the order without [the mother’s] signature, and entry of the order did not violate [her] procedural due process rights,” the Court of Appeals concluded.