Session Date: July 9, 2014
Appeal from the Chancery Court for Knox County No. 178287-2 Daryl R. Fansler, Chancellor
Steve Merritt, Maryville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Andrea Janoyan.
Andrew S. Roskind and Micha R. Buffington, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Jano Janoyan.
W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., and Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., joined.
W. NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE
I. Factual and Procedural Background
On July 22, 2010, Andrea Janoyan ("Wife") filed for divorce from Jano Janoyan ("Husband"). While conducting depositions on April 15, 2011, the parties held an impromptu settlement conference and entered into a written settlement agreement. The settlement agreement outlined the terms of a proposed martial dissolution agreement and permanent parenting plan. Based on the parties' agreement, Husband's attorney drafted a Marital Dissolution Agreement ("MDA") and permanent parenting plan, which Husband signed on June 9, 2011, and Wife signed on June 14, 2011. On June 27, 2011, however, Wife filed a Notice of Rescission, stating she "hereby rescinds any Parenting Plan or Marital Dissolution Agreement heretofore signed by her relative to this matter."
On August 5, 2011, Husband filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement, MDA, and parenting plan. He also sought damages related to the delay in finalizing the divorce, including attorney's fees. Husband claimed entitlement to attorney's fees and expenses under paragraph six of the MDA, which provides:
Should either party incur any expense or legal fees as a result of the breach of any portion of this marital dissolution agreement by the other party, the court shall award reasonable attorney's fees and litigation expenses to the non-defaulting party that were reasonably incurred.
The court held a hearing on both Wife's notice of rescission and Husband's motion to enforce on December 5, 2011. At the hearing, Wife alleged that she was under duress when she signed the agreements and that the MDA failed to equitably divide the parties' assets and debts. Wife claimed that financial and emotional pressure caused her to enter into the agreements. At the time of the settlement conference, the parties' marital home had been sold, and Wife had less than one month to move out of the home and find her own residence. Wife was also unemployed and concerned that she had no means of support. Additionally, Wife claimed that Husband told her "if she ever had any hope of reconciliation or continuing a relationship, she had to reach an agreement that day."
The trial court concluded that Wife was not under duress when she entered into the settlement agreement and MDA, and that the MDA was a valid contract. As a part of its findings of fact and conclusions of law, the court stated from the bench:
There is no indication that Mrs. Janoyan's decision-making was so unduly influenced by any action of Dr. Janoyan so as to practically destroy her free agency and cause her to do an act and make a contract not of her own volition. Indeed, her own testimony was that part of the reason she agreed to this was so that it would be done early and she would be able to avoid the delays associated with going to trial and would not have to be facing financial uncertainty, as she needed to leave the marital residence and purchase her own residence. That hardly sounds like one who is acting not of their own volition but is weighing the circumstances and deciding that: Even though it might be a bad situation, I'm willing to take it.
So the Court finds that she has not proven by clear and convincing evidence that – or even by a preponderance of the evidence, for that matter – that ...