|Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt|
An Alabama woman is about to finish her 11th week in jail, based on a handwritten divorce settlement that looks anything but official.
Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt challenged the validity of the agreement, but Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds denied her motion. We can find nothing in the court file that identifies the grounds Reynolds cited to uphold the agreement--and we certainly can find no formal version of the agreement. To top it off, the Final Order of Divorce was written by opposing counsel.
The bottom line? Bonnie Wyatt has been in jail for almost 11 weeks because of her efforts to end a marriage in which the parties lived together as husband and wife for only about 40 weeks. Will Ms. Wyatt's period of incarceration wind up being longer than her marital relationship with Harold Jay Wyatt? In Chilton County divorce court, it seems anything is possible.
According to the Final Order of Divorce, Ms. Wyatt was to pay Mr. Wyatt $165,000 to satisfy a debt on the marital residence to Regions Bank, and he then was to convey his interest in the real estate to her. Court records show the property belonged to Ms. Wyatt before the marriage, so it's hard to figure how she came to owe a large amount of money because of a husband-wife relationship that lasted such a short time.
Harold Wyatt told us in an interview that the house was in a state of disrepair when he entered the picture, and he invested a substantial sum to whip it into shape. Ms. Wyatt, however, disputes the amount in a Motion to Alter, Amend or Vacate that is dated June 10, 2011, and was prepared by Prattville attorney Chip Cleveland, of the firm Cleveland and Riddle. (See document at the end of this post.) From the Motion to Amend:
Based upon representations made to (the Wife) during the discovery process and mediation negotiations, she opines she was not given legitimate proof of monies (the Husband) claims he spent on the marital home. Additionally, detailed documentation was not shown to her of how the loan proceeds against the marital home were used. Therefore, she objects to the payment of monies to (the Husband) as part of the purported mediated agreement as related to the equity issues in the marital property.
(The Wife) feels information was withheld from her and (she) would never have agreed to any settlement or signed any papers at mediation if she had known the truth.
In a Motion to Enforce Final Decree and Mediated Settlement Agreement, prepared by attorney Chris Speaks, Harold Wyatt argues that nothing was concealed and the settlement was legitimate. (See document at the end of this post.)
Who is right? We can't give a definitive answer to that question. But Ms. Wyatt seems to have several important points in her favor. In her Motion to Amend, she states the following:
Lastly, there was no meeting of the minds as evidenced by any document adopted and incorporated into the Decree by the Court. There is also no evidence of testimony provided by either party.
Based on our review of the case file, both of those statements are true. The Final Order of Divorce stands on its own; it does not include a settlement agreement. And we see no sign that the decree was based on testimony of any kind.
The only sign of a settlement agreement is the scribbled, one-page document that is attached to Harold Wyatt's Motion to Enforce as "Exhibit A." But based on his own words, Attorney Speaks apparently did not fulfill his duty to the court. From item "e" in the Motion to Enforce:
At the conclusion of the mediation, a Mediated Settlement Agreement was executed by the parties with a formal Agreement to follow. A copy of said agreement is attached hereto as Exhibit 'A.'
Speaks says a formal agreement is to follow, but we have one question: Where is it? Does that barely legible, handwritten note pass as a formal agreement in Chilton County?
What about the motivations of Judge Reynolds. Rule 58 of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure allows judges to grant or deny motions with no explanation. That rule is one of many reasons our courts are riddled with corruption. Abuse of that rule is particularly troubling when one party or another winds up in jail for 10 weeks--and counting.
Is Bonnie Wyatt without fault in this matter? Based on our conversations with several individuals close to the situation, the answer probably is no.
Are there legitimate grounds for her incarceration, especially for almost 11 weeks? The answer to that question also appears to be no.
At the core of this curious divorce case seems to be this question: How did Bonnie Wyatt's property come to be in such a state of disrepair that Harold Wyatt felt a need to sink major dollars into it?
We will focus on that question as our investigation continues.
Wyatt Divorce--Motion to Amend
Wyatt Divorce-Motion to Enforce