What is an agreement, and when are they enforceable?

Everyone understands that a court order, signed by the court, and often the parties and their attorneys, are enforceable. However, it is less clear to parties to what extent other agreements between parties may be enforceable. Oftentimes, parties attempt to reach agreements, and later change their minds on following through.

Therefore, it is important to understand what it requires for an agreement to be enforceable in Michigan. It is always preferable, if you are looking to come to an agreement with someone, to have an attorney review the agreement. An attorney can help you by making sure the terms of the agreement are fair, as well as that the language agrees to what the parties are intending. Further, an attorney can review the agreement for any potential issues that may come up later, such as uncertain language, or unenforceable obligations on either party. However, many parties enter agreements before talking to an attorney. So what constitutes an agreement, and to what extent are they enforceable.

The primary language regarding agreements enforceable by Michigan courts is found in Court Rule 2.507(f). MCR 2.507(f) states that an agreement between parties (or their attorneys) is not enforceable unless it is made in open court, or if there is evidence of a written agreement that is signed by the party (or their attorney) looking to no longer hold to the agreement. This means that generally, a signed writing showing you agreed to the terms of the agreement is required to enforce the agreement.

However, as often happens with the law, new technology brings new issues regarding how the law is to be interpreted. Many parties don’t meet face to face to discuss matters and put an agreement on paper. Oftentimes, these discussions, and any resulting agreement, are done by text or email. Michigan courts have looked at electronic agreements (particularly emails). In Kloian v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, 273 Mich. App. 449 (2006), the court looked at whether an email from a commercial tenant’s attorney to the landlord’s attorney, discussing the terms of a settlement agreement, was in fact an agreement on the terms. The court in Kloian, the court found that the email from the tenant’s attorney constituted an acceptance of the proposed settlement terms from the landlord’s attorney. In finding so, the court found that an email can lead to an agreement, if the terms of the agreement are explicit, and the party accepting shows an intent to abide by the terms of the agreement, showing a “meeting of minds” on the essential terms of the agreement.

While often the terms used are found primarily in contract law, the same ideas work in other areas of law, such as family law. Oftentimes, parents, attempting to avoid court, discuss agreements to alter the parenting time that was ordered through the court. Based on the above discussion, it is important for parents to remember that they may be held to that out of court agreement, particularly if they follow through and actually exercise parenting time in accordance with the agreement.

There are some forms of relief available, but they are limited. They include mutual mistake by the parties as to the agreement, fraud or misrepresentation by one of the parties, newly discovered evidence which could not have been found before the agreement was made, or if a manifest injustice would result from enforcing the agreement. However, these arguments are difficult to make, and a party looking to use them should always consult with an attorney first to see if they qualify.

If you are having issues regarding an agreement, contact the Grand Rapids Law Group, PLLC to discuss your options.

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