December 27, 2005
Case Law Development: Dissolution Court has Exclusive Jurisdiction to Interpret and Enforce Property Settlement
The Supreme Court of Indiana reinforced the exclusive jurisdiction of a dissolution court in holding that a civil trial court had no jurisdiction to decide an action involving enforcement of a property settlement agreement that had been incorporated into a dissolution decree. Under that agreement, Husband assigned to Wifer a promissory note and mortgage, payable on the sale of certain real property. After the sale, Husband paid Wife $ 23,000. Wife then filed an action in the trial court, contending that she was entitled to $ 103,000. Husband moved for lack of jurisdiction. THe trial court and court of appeals both found that jurisdiction was proper, holding that the parties' settlement agreement unambiguously assigned a promissory note and mortgage to Wife and the dissolution court did not have exclusive jurisdiction to enforce that agreement.
The Supreme Court of Indiana disagreed and reversed. The court found that the opinion required interpretation and, thus, was within the dissolution court's exclusive jurisdiciton. The court conceded that Wife was asking only for "clarification and enforcement--not modification--of the property settlement agreement. But even under these circumstances, we believe the interests of judicial efficiency and comity are best served by requiring litigants to seek clarification and enforcement of property settlement agreements in the dissolution court."
The dissenting judge viewed the case as on in which Wife's claim "was simply a suit to collect on the note that was assigned to her in the divorce proceedings and therefore [she] was free to seek enforcement of the note in any court of competent jurisdiction. Because she also sought foreclosure of a mortgage, she was required to proceed in a court of the county where the real estate is located."
Fackler v. Powell, 2005 Ind. LEXIS 1130 (December 20, 2005)
Opinion on the web at http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/12200501fsj.pdf (last visited December 26, 2005 bgf)