Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton
From: Hamilton County Trial No. DR1600420 Court of Common
Pleas, Domestic Relation Division
Brinkman & Associates and Karen R. Brinkman, for
& Underwood LLC and Krystina S. Underwood, for
Plaintiff-appellant Amy Federle ("Amy") appeals
from the domestic relations court's February 26, 2018
decree of divorce which adopted an oral in-court settlement
agreement entered into by the parties in open court before
the magistrate on December 5, 2017.
Amy and defendant-appellee Todd Federle ("Todd")
were married in 2005. They have three children. In March
2016, Amy filed a complaint for divorce. On December 5, 2017,
after a 19-month period of discovery, predecree motions,
substitution of counsel, and negotiations, the parties
appeared, with their trial counsel, before the magistrate and
indicated that they had reached an agreement to end the
At the hearing, Todd's trial counsel read the terms of
the settlement agreement between the parties into the record.
The magistrate then asked each party whether he or she was
voluntarily agreeing to those terms and both answered in the
affirmative. On February 26, 2018, the domestic relations
court journalized a divorce decree. Neither Amy nor her trial
counsel signed the decree. Amy appealed.
In two interrelated assignments of error, Amy asserts that
the trial court erred in adopting the divorce decree. While
she admits that she acknowledged the terms of the agreement,
which had been read into the record before the magistrate,
she now asserts that the decree ultimately adopted by the
domestic relations court omitted terms of the parties'
agreement and included different and additional terms. She
maintains that the parties continued to dispute and negotiate
over terms of the settlement agreement after the December
hearing, and that the domestic relations court failed to hold
a hearing on these matters before entering the decree of
divorce thus denying her an opportunity to be heard on the
disputed terms. She also argues that the magistrate's
failure to issue a decision under Civ.R. 53 denied her the
opportunity to raise objections in the domestic relations
court. Finally, she maintains that because she failed to sign
the decree, it is not an enforceable decree. We disagree.
The law highly favors settlement agreements as an efficient
means to prevent or to end litigation. See Infinite Sec.
Solutions, L.L.C. v. Karam Properties, II, Ltd., 143
Ohio St.3d 346, 2015-Ohio-1101, 37 N.E.3d 1211, ¶ 16.
And courts have ratified the use of settlement agreements to
end divorce proceedings. See Walther v. Walther, 102
Ohio App.3d 378, 383, 657 N.E.2d 332 (1st Dist.1995); see
also Holland v. Holland, 25 Ohio App.2d 98, 101, 266
N.E.2d 580 (10th Dist.1970); Ferreri v. Ferreri,
11th Dist. Trumbull No. 2017-T-0055, 2018-Ohio-699, ¶
28; Eckstein v. Eckstein, 12th Dist. Warren No.
CA2010-10-097, 2011-Ohio-1724, ¶ 13.
Where a settlement agreement is arrived at by the parties in
open court and preserved by being read into the record, the
domestic relations court may enter a judgment which
accurately reflects the terms of the agreement, adopting the
agreement as its judgment. See Spercel v. Sterling
Industries, Inc., 31 Ohio St.2d 36, 285 N.E.2d 324
(1972), paragraph one of the syllabus; see also
Walther at 383; Benz v. Benz, 11th Dist. Geauga
No. 2004-G-2589, 2005-Ohio-5870, ¶ 14. This rule also
obtains when the agreement was entered into before a
magistrate. See Benz at ¶ 14. The in-court
agreement may be incorporated into the court's final
judgment, in the absence of an agreement in writing or
approval and signature of a party or her attorney. See
Holland at 101; Eckstein at ¶ 13.
The domestic relations court's authority to enforce
in-court settlement agreements is discretionary. See
Walther at 383; see also Ferreri at ¶ 25.
So long as the court is satisfied that the settlement
agreement reached by the parties was not procured by fraud,
duress, overreaching, or undue influence, the court may adopt
the settlement agreement as its judgment. Walther at
Therefore, we review the domestic relations court's
decision adopting the in-court settlement only for an abuse
of that discretion. An abuse of discretion is shown when a
decision is unreasonable, arbitrary, or unconscionable; that
is, when the trial court issues a ruling that is not
supported by a "sound reasoning process." See
AAAA Ents., Inc. v. River Place Community Urban Redev.
Corp., 50 Ohio St.3d 157, 161, 553 N.E.2d 597 (1990);
see also Parker v. Parker, 1st Dist. Hamilton No.
C-130658, 2014-Ohio-5516, ¶ 7.
Here, the record certified for our review contains a
transcript of the December 5, 2017 hearing held before the
magistrate. Both parties were present with their trial
counsel. Our review of that transcript shows that the terms
of the settlement agreement between the parties was read into
the record by Todd's counsel. The recitation of the terms
filled seven pages of transcript. The agreement resolved
issues including custody over the parties' minor
children, parenting time including holidays and summer
vacation time, responsibility for healthcare for the
children, child support and property equalization, and the
disposal of property.
When Todd's counsel finished the recitation, the
magistrate inquired of both parties, then under oath, whether