Always Read the Fine Print

Scanning the tabloids at the local supermarket, it is obvious that divorce cases can involve big bucks.  That’s why the rich and famous often employ skilled attorneys regarding business transactions, contract negotiations, and, when necessary, family law matters.

To be sure, the run of the mill divorce case in Virginia does not necessarily have the same pizazz as the latest with TomKat (the former union of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes for those of you who do not peruse the weekly tabloids while purchasing your groceries).  However, it is still advisable for anyone who is going through a divorce or custody case to consult with any attorney, especially prior to signing any documents governing future rights and obligations.

Dr. Victor Salib probably wishes he had heeded such advice prior to signing his Separation Agreement.  Instead, relying upon the advice of family clergy, he signed an agreement obligating him to pay his wife a minimum of $10,000 monthly for the rest of his life, even though his take home pay each month was just over $12,000.  He signed the agreement without the advice of any attorney as a sign of good faith in an effort to reconcile with his wife.

As is often the case, the couple was ultimately unable to reconcile and Dr. Salib’s ex-wife sought to collect her payments.  In defending against her claims, Dr. Salib argued that the agreement was unconscionable (a legal term basically meaning that it was procured via oppressive influences and so unfavorably skewed against him as to render it unenforceable).

Dr. Salib prevailed at the trial court level, but the Virginia Court of Appeals reversed the case with respect to whether the agreement was truly unconscionable.  See Guirguis v. Salib.  In ruling against Dr. Salib, the Court did acknowledge that the agreement was especially unfavorable to him.  However, it noted a recitation in the agreement that stated, “[t]his agreement is considered fair by each of the parties, and each party expressly disavows any claim that it is unconscionable,” which required Dr. Salib to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence a gross disparity and overreaching or oppressive influences.  This is a high standard, and Dr. Salib was simply unable to meet it.

As a result of the Virginia Appeals Court decision, Dr. Salib is on the hook to pay his ex-wife a substantial monthly sum.  Had he consulted with any attorney, he would have likely been advised to think twice before making such a generous and life altering financial commitment.

Life Lesson: Be careful what you sign and always read the fine print.  A court is likely to enforce an agreement against you, even if the agreement is you.  Consulting with an attorney before signing any legal document whether divorce related or otherwise, is always the best practice.

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