Is an Email Agreement Binding in a Divorce? In Many Cases, YES!
An email can create a binding agreement in a divorce settlement in Arizona. Under Arizona Rule of Family Law Procedure 69, “An Agreement between the parties shall be valid and binding if . . . the agreement is in writing.” In Murray v. Murray, the Arizona Court of Appeals recently confirmed that an email satisfies the “writing” requirement to form an enforceable agreement. 239 Ariz. 174, 367 P.3d 78. Therefore, an email agreement satisfies the requirements to be binding in Arizona.
While Arizona courts have explicitly recognized email to satisfy the in writing requirement in civil cases, this case made it clear that the same rule applies in family law cases. The Arizona Court of Appeals previously addressed this issue in an unpublished decision order brought by one of Phelps & Moore’s founding partners in 2014.
Enforcing an Email Agreement
Once a binding agreement exists, the court must enforce it. However, an exception exists if the court determines the agreement is unfair “after considering the economic circumstances of the parties.” A.R.S. § 25-317(B). In this case, the court may decide not to enforce the agreement. This means that if you have an email agreement, the court enforces it unless it is determined to be unfair.
As to agreements for “support, custody and parenting time of children,” the court cares most about the children. The court can refuse to enforce agreements if it finds they do not advance the children’s “best interests and welfare.” Anderson v. Anderson, 14 Ariz. App. 195, 198, 481 P.2d 881 (1971). In order to make the finding that the agreement is not in the children’s best interests, the court must hold a trial and take evidence from the parties. Murray, 239 Ariz. at 179, 367 P.3d at 83.
If a party is required to engage in additional litigation to enforce the agreement, the court can award “the cost and expense of maintaining or defending a proceeding to challenge the validity of an agreement.” Ariz. R. Fam. L.P. 69(B). Sometimes the legal fees incurred for enforcing an agreement, particularly when a trial is necessary, can be significant.
What does this mean for me and my case?
All of these rules mean that in a family law case in Arizona, it is important to be very careful when sending emails. For example, one party may send an offer via email. If the other party accepts, the email agreement is binding on the parties. In fact, this agreement is binding even if one or both parties’ attorneys did not approve the agreement. In short, be very careful of what you put in an email to your spouse or ex-spouse. You could find yourself having accidentally entered into a binding email agreement.
If you are going through a divorce, paternity action, or post decree modification, understanding these agreements can be difficult. Having a family law attorney on your side to guide you through the process can help you achieve a better result. At Phelps & Moore, many of our attorneys handle family law cases regularly with positive outcomes for our clients. Call us today at 602-788-2089 to schedule a free 30-minute initial consultation.
The information and views contained in this posting are not legal advice, nor do they form an attorney-client relationship.