An Agreement to Agree is not an Agreement

March 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

Ken and Lauren Moreland agreed in their irreconcilable divorce to the following provisions:

Kenneth Moreland shall pay one-half (1/2) of all expenses of the minor child for up to two (2) extracurricular activities and the reasonable age appropriate activities of the minor child which the parties agree are reasonable and necessary for the minor child.

The parties shall be responsible for one-half (1/2) of all preschool and/or private school tuition and expenses for the minor child attending preschool and/or private school, until graduation, including but not limited to registration fees, school uniforms, school supplies, lunches and any other expenses due to the school or as a result of the minor child attending school if the parties agree to enroll [the child] in a private preschool or school. [Emphasis added]

In Moreland v. Spears, handed down March 1, 2016, the COA held (at ¶11) that the italicized language required the agreement of both parties before Ken became obligated under the divorce contract to pay any part of those expenses. Since Ken never agreed, he was not bound to pay.

The very purpose of a contract is to create an agreement that is enforceable in a court of law. It’s a basic principle of contract law that a mere agreement to agree is no contract. See, e.g., Intrepid, Inc. v. Bennett, 176 So.3d 775 (Miss. 2015).

I have seen many PSA’s with similar provisions, and I always ask from the bench whether the party understands that there is no obligation if the other party does not agree. Most of the time the cheery, optimistic answer is that no problem is expected, and that, surely, the other party will “do the right thing.” To that, I always warn that if (s)he does not, no court can make him or her do the right thing under the terms of this agreement. Occasionally, the party will ask to go back to the drawing board. That’s the wiser course.

If you’re going to include Moreland-like language in a PSA, be sure to advise your client of the pitfalls. Better still: put it in writing and have your client acknowledge receipt by signing it.

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