Duffy v. Duffy
881 A.2d 630 (D.C. 2005)

Facts:

  • The parties were married in 1977 and adopted a daughter in 1995.
  • In 1998, husband wanted a divorce, and he and wife negotiated a separation agreement.
  • The terms were reduced to writing, signed, and sent to wife’s attorney in the form of a letter in 2001.
  • The attorney prepared the agreement, incorporating the terms in the letter, but the husband never executed it. However, he abided by the terms until November 2002.
  • In November 2002, husband unilaterally reduced his child support payments from $5,000 per month to $2,000 per month.
    • Husband expressed concern that the Letter did not address what would happen to his child support obligation in the event he lost his job, or had other financial constraints.
    • There were also concerns regarding his failure to seek independent counsel.

History:
The trial court enforced the agreement.

Issue:
Whether the letter signed by both parties containing separation agreement was enforceable contract.

Holding:
Yes.

Reasoning:
The Letter was complete as to the essential terms of the parties’ divorce, and that appellant’s course of conduct for over a year—from signing the Letter, to abiding by its terms, to stating in his e-mail communications his desire that any formalized agreement incorporate the terms in the Letter—demonstrates his intent to be bound by the conditions set forth in that agreement.

Rule: In the absence of fraud, duress, concealment or overreaching, a separation agreement is presumptively valid and binding no matter how ill-advised a party may have been in executing it.