Coons v. CoonsAnnotate this Case
May 7, 2015 was the second day of Kenneth and Melissa Coons' divorce hearing. Near the end of the hearing, the trial court called a brief recess and asked counsel to meet in chambers. According to the trial court, during the meeting, it told the parties that “it would not and could not distribute [husband’s] military retirement because he had not yet served the requisite number of years to vest in the system. In short, there was not yet anything to distribute because [husband] had no entitlement to the benefit.” The trial court indicated that the benefits could be distributed only once they vested; because husband was ten months shy of a full twenty years of service as of the final hearing date, there was nothing to distribute. Following this conference in chambers, the parties entered into an stipulation resolving all outstanding issues. With respect to property division, wife agreed to accept a lump-sum payment of $15,000 and waived any claims to husband’s expected but not-yet-vested military retirement benefit. Wife affirmed on the record her satisfaction with the stipulation, and the trial court incorporated the stipulation into the final divorce decree. The court signed the final order the next day. Wife sought to set aside the stipulated final order for divorce on the ground that she entered into the agreement in reliance on that in-chambers “weather report” in which the trial judge misstated the applicable law. Finding no abuse of the trial court's discretion in declining to set aside the stipulation, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed.