Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Settlement agreements between husband and wife that purport to settle the legal obligations of alimony and child support, over which the court has initial and continuing statutory authority to determine, are not binding until approved by the court. The terms of such agreements are merely evidential in value and may be followed by the court in its award of alimony; they should be given great consideration but are subject to close scrutiny by the court.
Plaintiff, Jo Laverne Alden (“Alden”), is the mother of Ginger Alden, the former girlfriend of the late Elvis Presley. In January of 1977, Presley became engaged to Ginger Alden. He was quite generous to several members of the Alden family including Ginger and her mother, Alden. Due to his close relationship with Alden’s daughter, Presley also became aware of Alden’s desire to obtain a divorce from her husband. Presley offered to pay all expenses incurred in the divorce proceeding, including furnishing Alden an attorney; to advance Alden money to purchase her husband's equity in the Alden home; and to pay off the remaining mortgage indebtedness on the Alden home. As a result of these promises, Alden filed for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. On August 1, 1977, a property settlement agreement was executed in which Alden paid her husband $5,325.00 for his equity in return for a deed conveying all of his interest in the home to Alden plus a release of the husband from all further liability upon the mortgage indebtedness on the Alden home. On August 16, 1977, Presley died suddenly leaving unpaid the mortgage indebtedness on the Alden home. On August 25, 1977, Drayton Beecher Smith, II, an attorney for the Presley estate, informed Alden that the estate would not assume liability for the mortgage indebtedness. Alden filed the present suit on February 14, 1978, to enforce the promise made by decedent to pay the home mortgage. While pending, she re-filed her divorce action in April 1978, which was granted. The trial court in the instant case held that decedent did make a promise unsupported by consideration to plaintiff, that no gift was consummated for failure of delivery, and that Alden did not rely upon the promise since her divorce petition was filed subsequent to the present suit and subsequent to being told that decedent's estate would not accept legal responsibility for decedent's promise. The Court of Appeals concurred in the trial court finding that there was no gift for failure of delivery, holding that delivery is not complete unless "complete dominion and control of the gift is surrendered by the donor and acquired by the donee. However, it reversed the remainder of the trial court's decision by adopting and applying the doctrine of promissory estoppel holding that plaintiff had foregone remedies available to her in the divorce petition in reliance upon the promise made to her by decedent. The Court of Appeals reasoned the estate should be estopped from dishonoring that promise.
Is the Presley estate estopped from dishonoring the promise made by Elvis Presley to Alden by virtue of the doctrine of promissory estoppel?
Alden has failed, as a matter of law, to prove essential elements of promissory estoppel, to-wit: detrimental reliance, and a loss suffered as a result of detrimental reliance. Alden showed that decedent's promise had induced her to incur a $ 39,587 mortgage as part of a divorce settlement agreement, but the agreement was not binding on her or her husband until approved by the divorce court. The Presley estate denied liability for decedent's gratuitous promise to pay the mortgage before the agreement received court approval. This removed the element of detrimental reliance from the case. Thus, Alden’s reliance on the promise after the Presley estate denied liability was not reasonably justified and any loss incurred did not result from her justifiable reliance