Divorce and family law settlements are generally easier and less expensive options compared to trial proceedings.
If you are able to reach an agreement on certain components of your case, whether substantive or procedural, and you reach that agreement outside the context of mediation, then it is important to have that agreement in writing in the form of an informal settlement agreement or a Rule 11 Agreement.
A Rule 11 Agreement refers to Rule 11 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. Family law cases, which include divorce proceedings, fall under the umbrella of civil cases, and thus are subject to Rule 11 of the Texas Rule of Civil Procedure.
Details of an agreement between attorneys or parties involved in a lawsuit can be unclear, contested, or even misremembered.
Reducing these agreements to writing in the form of a binding informal settlement agreement or a Rule 11 Agreement is wise. These agreements exist to reduce controversy and aid in memorializing agreements between parties.
What Is a Rule 11 Agreement in Texas?
At their most basic level, Rule 11 agreements are enforceable contracts pertaining to litigation. An agreement that is made in open court and entered as part of the court record is an enforceable agreement.
However, agreements made outside of court must be made in writing, signed by all counsel of record, and filed with the Court in order to be enforceable as a contract.
How Does the Rule 11 Agreement in Texas Work?
To have an enforceable agreement, all material terms must be included. There are four primary components of a valid Rule 11 agreement in Texas:
- No agreement will be enforced unless it is in writing or made in open court on the record;
- Terms of the agreement must be clear and unambiguous;
- The agreement must be signed by all parties involved, if made outside of court; and
- Any written agreement must be signed and filed as part of the court records.
Although the details of the Rule 11 Agreement need not be as in-depth as a final order in a divorce or custody suit, the terms do have to be clear enough for a reasonable third party to know what is expected of each party to the agreement.
The agreement is legally binding once it has been negotiated, prepared, signed, and filed. Either party may withdraw consent to the agreement before the court makes it legally binding.
When Is a Texas Rule 11 Agreement Appropriate to Use?
In Texas, a Rule 11 Agreement can be a helpful and time-effective resource if used correctly. For example, litigants often use Rule 11 Agreements to extend discovery deadlines, to modify deadlines pertaining to witness or exhibit deadlines, or even to reach short-term agreements regarding temporary use of property or delineate expectations for a custody situation over a given period.
Even email correspondence between attorneys can be enforceable as a Rule 11 Agreement as long as the intent of the email signature was to purposefully certify the contents of the email and it is filed with the court.
Notably, however, if a Rule 11 Agreement is not specific in nature it could result in additional legal fees when a party tries to enforce or clarify the terms of the agreement. Further, Rule 11 Agreements should only be used in pending lawsuits and not to finalize settlements achieved prior to filing a lawsuit.
When to Avoid Texas Rule 11 Agreements in Family Law
Though child custody negotiations between parents can be made using a Rule 11 Agreement in Texas, it is wiser to enter into a formal Agreed Parenting Plan, Mediated Settlement Agreement, or written temporary or final orders regarding the parent-child aspects of the case. A Rule 11 Agreement usually would not be used to outline the subnative terms of a temporary or final agreement regarding parent-child issues.
Use and Enforcement of a Rule 11 Agreement in Texas
Using Rule 11 Agreement in Texas in a pending divorce and custody suit may save you valuable time and money in many situations. But, it is important that you hire an experienced attorney who is familiar with Rule 11 Agreements and their limitations, to avoid unnecessary expense and/or litigation in relation to enforcing the agreement itself.
A knowledgeable family law attorney will navigate your case with the proper use of Rule 11 Agreements in Texas.
Why Choose The Stout Law Firm?
Choosing the correct legal counsel for your family law case can make a big difference in the outcome and ease of litigation. The Stout Law Firm understands the difficult and emotional nature of divorce and family law, and we will fight to get you what you deserve. Contact us to schedule a consultation.