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In Re Marriage of Kloster



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County; the Hon. Harris Agnew, Judge, presiding.


John M. Kloster appeals from a judgment in a marriage dissolution proceeding which incorporated a settlement agreement with his wife, Paula D. Kloster. He contends that the agreement is invalid and unconscionable.


John's claim of invalidity is based upon his contention that, although he signed one copy of the agreement, and his wife an identical copy, neither actually agreed to its terms. He first argues that the fact that separate copies were signed, neither document including both signatures, proves that there was no meeting of the minds. We disagree.

While there appears to be no Illinois decision directly in point in a marital case, the application of normal contract rules belies the husband's contention. The provisions of a settlement agreement are to be interpreted by normal contract rules. (In re Marriage of Thaden (1983), 119 Ill. App.3d 538, 540.) A contract may be composed of several writings. A contract signed by the party to be charged may be enforced against him. (Glabman v. Bouhall (1980), 81 Ill. App.3d 966, 969.) The contract may also be composed of several writings whose terms do not conflict, "and which, when connected, show the parties, subject matter, terms, and consideration." O'Brien v. Kawazoye (1975), 27 Ill. App.3d 810, 816.

• 1 Here, both parties signed identical copies of the agreement on the same day. Later that day, upon learning that Paula had changed attorneys, John called her. He objected to the change of attorneys, saying "We had this thing all settled." John testified that he thought Paula was dissatisfied with the agreement. Paula, however, testified she was dissatisfied with her attorney, not with the agreement, although she said she would like some unspecified matters clarified. This testimony was insufficient to show that Paula had rejected the agreement.

• 2 John also argues that there was no mutual assent because the parties disagreed about the interpretation and effect of the agreement. Paula thought John's monthly obligation would amount to approximately 40% of his monthly take-home pay, while John stated the obligation amounted about 60%. Subjective agreement to the terms of a contract is not required; conduct indicating agreement with its terms is sufficient. Steinberg v. Chicago Medical School (1977), 69 Ill.2d 320, 331; Joseph v. Lake Michigan Mortgage Co. (1982), 106 Ill. App.3d 988, 992.

• 3 John said he did not understand the agreement, but signed it after he and his attorney "thumbed through it," because his attorney "was anxious" and wanted to "get this thing over quickly." An agreement, even if signed under duress alleged by one party, is binding if later conduct affirms it. (Board of Education v. Ballweber (1983), 96 Ill.2d 520, 526-27.) One who has had an opportunity to read a contract before signing, but signs before reading, cannot later plead lack of understanding or that the contract misled him. (Hintz v. Lazarus (1978), 58 Ill. App.3d 64, 66.) Furthermore, John's statement affirming the settlement, and his agreement at trial that Paula's testimony as to the terms of the agreement was accurate, show he understood and agreed to the settlement.

Illinois courts> look with favor upon amicably agreed property settlements and will not set them aside absent proof of fraud, duress, or variance with public policy. (Stutler v. Stutler (1978), 61 Ill. App.3d 201, 204; In re Marriage of Block (1982), 110 Ill. App.3d 864, 875.) Here there are no allegations of fraud or duress sufficient to invalidate a contract. John's implied allegation that his attorney hurried him into signing does not amount to legal duress.

• 4 John's reliance on In re Marriage of Perry (1981), 96 Ill. App.3d 370, 373, is misplaced. In Perry, the husband, his attorney, and the wife's attorney negotiated a settlement agreement, out of the wife's hearing, 15 minutes before trial. At trial the wife objected that the income figures were inaccurate and presented evidence to that effect. On appeal, the Perry court required a rehearing, finding duress, lack of mutual assent, and disparities in the evidence concerning marital property. Here, the parties met to discuss the terms in January and signed the agreement in April. Both were represented by attorneys. The property, income, and expenditures listed in the agreement were not disputed. Where the contents of an agreement are testified to and the objecting party fails to object or to give evidence to the contrary, the agreement is established. (Guyton v. Guyton (1959), 17 Ill.2d 439, 444.) A property settlement should not be disregarded simply because one party has second thoughts. Horwich v. Horwich (1979), 68 Ill. App.3d 518, 522.

"Whether a contract exists, its terms and the intent of the parties are questions of fact to be determined by the trier of fact." (Peoria Harbor Marina v. McGlasson (1982), 105 Ill. App.3d 723, 727.) The appellate court will not reverse the judgment of the trial court unless contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. 105 Ill. App.3d 723, 727.

We conclude that the parties entered a valid and enforceable agreement.


• 5 John argues, finally, that even if the parties entered a valid agreement, it is ...

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