GLORIA EVE GORNY VANHOUTEGHEN V VICTOR RUSSELL VANHOUTEGHENAnnotate this Case
STATE OF MICHIGAN
COURT OF APPEALS
GLORIA EVE GORNY-VANHOUTEGHEN,
December 1, 1998
Washtenaw Circuit Court
LC No. 94-002000 DM
VICTOR RUSSELL VANHOUTEGHEN,
Before: Sawyer, P.J., and Wahls and Hoekstra, JJ.
Plaintiff appeals as of right from the entry of a judgment of divorce. Plaintiff asserts that the trial
court erred when it refused to include two terms of the parties’ property settlement agreement in the
judgment. We agree. This case is being decided without oral argument pursuant to MCR 7.214(E).
A trial court is bound by a property settlement reached through agreement by the parties to a
divorce action, absent fraud, duress, mutual mistake, or stress sufficiently severe so as to prevent a
party from understanding in a reasonable manner an effect of the act in which the party was engaged.
Keyser v Keyser, 182 Mich App 268, 269-270; 451 NW2d 587 (1990). This rule applies where the
settlement is orally entered on the record and consented to by the parties, even though not yet formally
entered as part of the divorce judgment by the trial court. Id. at 270. However, where the property
settlement is ambiguous, the court may exercise its inherent powers to interpret and clarify the terms of
the settlement so long as the clarification does not alter the substantive rights of the parties. Bers v Bers,
161 Mich App 457, 464; 411 NW2d 732 (1987). Ambiguity is not synonymous with incompleteness;
therefore, where the agreement is incomplete, the court may not add terms to the agreement and create
a property settlement for the parties that they did not make for themselves. See, e.g., Marshall v
Marshall, 135 Mich App 702, 709-711; 355 NW2d 661 (1984).
The settlement placed orally on the record in this case lacks any mention of the consequences
plaintiff would suffer if she failed to supply the supportive documentation within the three-week period
agreed to by the parties. Because the settlement contained no sanction provision, the settlement was
incomplete. The trial court lacked the authority to read into the settlement a forfeiture provision and,
thereby, to modify the settlement by striking from the originally proposed divorce judgment the credits
to which the parties agreed plaintiff was entitled. See Marshall, supra. Accordingly, we reverse the
decision of the court and remand so that the judgment may be modified to include paragraphs seven and
eight as originally drafted and proposed by plaintiff.
We do not retain jurisdiction.
/s/ David H. Sawyer
/s/ Myron H. Wahls
/s/ Joel P. Hoekstra