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Keith v. Keith

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 17, 2013

Angela Janette Lee KEITH, Appellant
Sean Franklin KEITH, Appellee.

Brandon L. Brooks, Hattiesburg, attorney for appellant.

Renee M. Porter, attorney for appellee.

Before LEE, C.J., BARNES and ISHEE, JJ.

Page 968


¶ 1. In 2011, Angela Janette Lee Keith and Sean Franklin Keith agreed to an irreconcilable-differences divorce. They negotiated the division of their assets and custody of their children, and signed a document reflecting their agreement. After presenting the document to the Forrest County Chancery Court at a hearing and testifying as to the veracity and consequences of the agreement, the court entered an order granting the divorce pursuant to the terms upon which the Keiths had agreed. Angela now appeals the grant of divorce, wanting to renegotiate the nature of the divorce and the terms of the agreement. Finding no error, we affirm.


¶ 2. Angela and Sean were married on March 2, 1995. They have two children, a son who was born in October 1995 and a daughter who was born in November 1999. On March 30, 2009, Sean filed for divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. Angela filed her answer and counter-complaint for divorce citing habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, as well as adultery.

¶ 3. The case was set for trial on July 29, 2010. Approximately one week before the date of trial, Angela filed a motion for contempt. Accordingly, the chancellor agreed to hear the contempt motion on the first day of the trial.

¶ 4. However, on the day of the trial, before the contempt motion could be heard or the trial could begin, the parties entered into negotiations in an effort to settle the divorce amicably. The parties reached an agreed settlement later that day regarding property division and child custody. The agreement was handwritten on a legal pad, signed by both parties, and presented to the chancellor on July 29, 2010.

¶ 5. After reviewing the agreement, the chancellor asked the parties, under oath, if they were satisfied with the agreement they had reached. Both parties answered affirmatively. The chancellor continued with a line of questioning regarding the parties' understanding of the finality of the settlement, their satisfaction with the settlement, and the consequences of having the court enter the settlement as a final order. The parties indicated that they were both fully aware of the contents of the settlement and the effects the settlement would have once entered as a judgment. As such, the chancery court entered the handwritten settlement document as an exhibit to the hearing, and ordered that the final judgment reflect its contents.

¶ 6. The chancery court next confirmed that Angela and Sean both wanted to withdraw their fault-based divorce grounds and conclude the matter as an irreconcilable-differences divorce. The parties acknowledged that this was their intent. Angela's attorney also specifically stated to the chancery court that Angela wished to withdraw all fault-based grounds for divorce. As such, the hearing concluded with the parties being granted an irreconcilable-differences divorce, and all property and custody issues being settled per their specifications in the handwritten agreement.

¶ 7. The day after the proceedings were finalized, Angela entered a pro se motion in the case. The document stated that she was under duress when she signed the agreed settlement, and that she objected to the entry of divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences. She also noted that she intended to retain new counsel.

¶ 8. Meanwhile, Sean's attorney sent Angela's attorney the proposed-agreement paperwork reflecting the agreed settlement and entry of an irreconcilable-differences

Page 969

divorce. Sean's attorney was then told that Angela refused to sign any documents, and would not withdraw her fault-based ground for divorce. In September 2010, Sean's attorney filed a motion to enter the agreement regarding custody, the property settlement, and the irreconcilable-differences divorce. The motion was noticed for a hearing, which initially took place on December 10, 2010. Sean's attorney was the only attorney present. After hearing Sean's arguments, the chancery court entered an order dismissing all contested pleadings, granting the divorce based on irreconcilable differences, and reflecting the settlement as negotiated by the parties on July 29, 2010. The order specifically stated: " ORDERED AND ADJUDGED, this the 10th day of December, A.D., 2010 nunc pro tunc to July 29, 2010," to reflect the agreement reached on the record the day of the original proceedings.

¶ 9. Angela retained new counsel, and filed a motion to set aside or reconsider the judgment of divorce. A hearing on the motion took place on September 8, 2011. After hearing arguments from both parties' counsel, the chancellor found that the written agreement executed by both parties on July 29, 2010, met the criteria necessary to be a valid, binding, written agreement. The chancellor affirmed the judgment of divorce and the settlement in an order dated October 3, 2011. Therein, the chancellor also clarified certain aspects of the written agreement regarding child custody and ...

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