Watkins v. Watkins
A separation contract that includes a release for "any and all . . . causes of action from any behavior or occurrence that happened during the marriage" can preclude one spouse from suing the other spouse for negligence that allegedly took place during the marriage. The plaintiff, Michelle Watkins, sued her former husband, James Watkins, alleging that his negligence on Jan. 7, 2011 caused the plaintiff to fall. The defendant filed a special defense, alleging that the parties' 2012 separation contract released the defendant from legal responsibility for conduct that took place during the parties' marriage. The plaintiff objected that the separation contract only settled the parties' financial and property matters. The separation contract provided, "Except as to the obligations created hereunder and reservant to the parties hereto, the rights set forth in this Agreement is the entire understanding of the parties and each party hereby releases and relinquishes to the other party any and all claims that either party has against the other for any and all property rights and causes of action from any behavior or occurrence that happened during the marriage." The court found that the plaintiff was represented by counsel when she signed the separation contract, which was clear and unambiguous. The plaintiff conceded that the subject incident took place during the parties' marriage. The defendant proved that the plaintiff released her right to sue the husband for negligence when she signed the separation contract, and the court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment.