In the case of Kiell v. Kiell (September 5, 2006), the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that a party claiming fraud in the inducement of a collaborative law agreement was not entitled to a jury trial. Rather, the Court found that the trial court’s obligation was to summarily determine whether there was the existence of a valid agreement.
In the Kiell decision, the parties entered into a collaborative agreement wherein they agreed to settle the issues arising from the dissolution of their marriage and would commit to do so without court intervention. The collaborative law agreement contained a special provision that if any issues arise about which agreement cannot be reached, that the parties would submit the matter to mediation or binding arbitration under the North Carolina Family Law Arbitration Act. In spite of this, the Plaintiff filed a complaint in the district court seeking a divorce from bed and board, post-separation support, alimony, attorney’s fees and equitable distribution, and included a claim to rescind and invalidate any purported collaborative law agreement between the parties.
The Plaintiff’s claim for a jury trial, although upheld by the trial court, was denied by the Court of Appeals on the grounds that the determination of the existence of a valid arbitration agreement was a matter for the court and did not require a jury trial under the North Carolina Constitution. The case was remanded to the trial court for the trial court to summarily determine whether the collaborative law agreement contained a valid arbitration clause in light of the Plaintiff’s claims.