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Duncan v. Hensley

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant and plaintiff entered a property settlement agreement in contemplation of divorce. Under the terms of the agreement plaintiff was to receive the most of the assets. Court started a divorce decree and approved the property settlement agreement. Plaintiff sued defendant to cancel the signed instruments claiming she did so under duress. The trial court nullified the agreements. Defendant appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    In Arkansas, a contract made by a party under duress is void.

    Facts.

    Following four years of marriage, Graddy Duncan (defendant) and Joyce Hensley (plaintiff) gone into a property settlement agreement in consideration of separation. Under the terms of the agreement, Hensley was to get the 440-acre farm, household furniture, cattle and horses, and an automobile, as well as most of the other assets. The court at that point entered a separation declare and endorsed the consented to property settlement understanding. Subsequently, Duncan went to Hensley's place of work and threatened her life if she didn't sign over to him many the benefits she got under the terms of the agreement. Hensley compiled and marked instruments passing on the land, animals, and substantial items to Duncan. From that point, Hensley filed suit against Duncan to cancel the signed instruments arguing that she did so under duress. The trial court agreed and invalidated the agreements. Duncan appealed.

    Issue.

    In Arkansas, is a contract made by a party under duress void?

    Held.

    Yes. In Arkansas, a contract made by a party under duress is void.

    Discussion.

    In Burr v. Burton, 18 Ark. 214 (1856), the court declared that a contract signed by any party under duress is void if it is shown that the contract was signed under some life taking threat of unlawful harassment, serious physical harm, or death. Most unfavorably, the court noted that contracts achieved by fraud or by any kind of duress enough to prove the judgment of the signor are voidable at the request of the aggrieved party. See Perkins Oil Co. of Delaware v. Fitzgerald, 121 S.W.2d 877 (Ark.1938). In this case, the evidence showed that Duncan met Hensley with the intention of marrying her but later cheated her to get most of her assets. Duncan had a proven record of violence threatened Hensley at her work place and put her in such fear for her life that she signed the papers and handed over all her assets. Since Hensley was unwilling and signed the documents against her wish, the trial court correctly cancelled them. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.


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