Massachusetts Divorce Nisi Separation Agreement Settlement Negotiation Judicial Estoppels Lawyers Attorneys
ODETTE PAIXAO vs. SARMENTO J. PAIXAO.
SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS
April 8, 1999
Paixao wife filed for a divorce from her husband, Sarmento J. Paixao, pursuant to G. L. c. 208, § 1B. On August 5, 1997, the parties appeared for trial. After some involvement by the judge, settlement negotiations ensued, and, at the end of the day, the lawyers reported that the parties had reached an oral separation agreement. The judge had a colloquy with the parties, judge then asked the lawyers to submit a signed agreement the following day. The next day the parties reported that the wife was unwilling to sign the agreement. The wife’s lawyer filed a motion to set a trial date because the wife would not sign the agreement. The husband’s counsel offered a proposed judgment, incorporating what he asserted were the terms agreed to on August 5, as well as his resolution of issues discussed on September 8. The judge denied the wife’s motion for a trial date. He signed a judgment granting a divorce under G. L. c. 208, § 1B, and incorporating the husband’s proposed agreement, which he found to be fair and reasonable.
Plaintiff wife appealed a judgment of divorce nisi that incorporated a proposed settlement agreement.
Whether the Judicial estoppel applies to the domestic relations context?
Whether the Judicial estoppel binds the plaintiff wife?
1) Whether the Judicial estoppel applies to the domestic relations context
The doctrine of judicial estoppel applies to oral separation agreements, but that judicial estoppel does not apply here. We have described judicial estoppel as the principle by which a party who has successfully maintained a certain position at a trial cannot in a subsequent trial between the same parties be permitted to assume a position relative to the same subject that is directly contrary to that taken at the first trial. Having determined that judicial estoppel applies in the domestic relations context.
2) Whether the Judicial estoppel binds the plaintiff wife?
The judgment granting divorce incorporated the husband’s proposed agreement. That agreement incorporated the terms agreed to on August 5, as well as the husband’s resolution of the issues raised on September 8. However, the judge conducted a colloquy with the parties only on August 5. There was no colloquy regarding resolution of the issues raised on September 8. There was also no agreement because the judgment offered by the husband was merely a proposed judgment. The theory underlying judicial estoppel is that acknowledgments made by parties in open court under oath are reliable. The judge never conducted a colloquy in which the wife acknowledged her assent to the agreement that was ultimately incorporated into the divorce judgment. Thus, judicial estoppel is inapplicable, and the wife is entitled to a trial.
These summaries are provided by the SRIS Law Group. They represent the firm’s unofficial views of the Justices’ opinions. The original opinions should be consulted for their authoritative content.
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