The husband, in a dissolution proceeding, petitioned for review of the trial court’s determination to set aside a property settlement agreement. [F] –Proof There is no formula for determining whether the actions and behavior of one spouse in the circumstances surrounding the execution of a separation agreement will be held to constitute duress.
The Florida Supreme Court held that competency of counsel is not a ground to vacate postnuptial agreements. Earlier authorities applied an objective test and held that duress existed where the pressure would have been sufficient to overcome the will of a person of ordinary firmness.
In , the court determined that a separation agreement was properly invalidated by the trial court based on the determination that the husband’s conduct caused the wife to involuntarily enter into the agreement. 1986), the Florida Appeals Court examined the difference between duress and coercion, stating that duress usually connotes some degree of force or threat of force, but duress has also been found when the conduct of one person induces another to enter into a contract against his own volition or judgment, generally out of fear, but also in some cases because of extreme persuasion or pressure of circumstances.
In this case, the husband had refused to give the wife a financial statement regarding his assets, and had threatened to blow up the house and throw Clorox all over her clothes if she did not find an attorney who would let her sign the proposed separation. OBSERVATION: The essential characteristic of coercion which emerges from these definitions is that force, threat of force, strong persuasion or domination by another, necessitous circumstances, or some combination of those, has overcome the mind or volition of the defendant so that he acted other than he ordinarily would have acted in the absence of those influences.
The conversations, acts, and declarations of the spouses prior to, during, and after the execution of a separation agreement generally form the bulk of the evidence offered to prove the exercise of duress by one spouse on the other.