A settlement agreement is a written contract outlining the settlement terms between persons who resolve a legal dispute without the need for a court judgment. After the parties reach a "meeting of the minds," the agreement becomes legally binding when both parties sign it. If one of the parties to the agreement subsequently decides to renege on the settlement, the other party who wants to uphold it can take legal action to enforce the settlement agreement.
- Skill level:
Draft a written agreement outlining the settlement language negotiated between the persons involved in the legal dispute. This written agreement becomes proof that the parties reached a valid settlement. If court intervention becomes necessary, the presiding judge will review the signed agreement and likely will enforce the settlement agreement because, with few exceptions, courts do not invalidate contracts.
Take preventive measures so enforcement of the settlement agreement becomes easier if a contest occurs in the future. For example, consider a notary or have a third party witness sign the agreement along with the parties. If the settlement agreement contains several pages, both parties can initial all the pages so neither person can come back later and say he did not see a part of the agreement or he did not agree to certain language. Retain a finalised copy for your records.
Send a letter to the person who is attempting to renege on the settlement agreement. Point out that the parties signed a valid settlement agreement and performance is expected. Further inform the party that if nonperformance of the settlement agreement continues past a deadline, you will have no choice but to ask the court to enforce the settlement. The letter becomes a good first step because you want to avoid the need for court intervention, if possible.
File a petition to enforce the settlement agreement with the court that has jurisdiction if other means have become unsuccessful in completing the settlement. Review your state's court rules for filing the appropriate paperwork, including associated costs and the proper service of process of the petition. Essentially, a petition to enforce the settlement agreement asks the judge to enter an Order compelling the other side to make good on the agreement.
Attend the court hearing if the court requests the parties to the settlement agreement to appear and explain the circumstances surrounding the settlement agreement. Stating that one party did not understand the agreement usually becomes insufficient legal grounds to set aside the agreement, according to Lawhelp.org. The presiding judge will hear both sides, and absent fraud or mistake, the judge likely will not set aside the agreement.
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