John L. Bailey, Edwin J. Martin, Pittsburgh, for appellant.
James D. Morton, Buchanan, Ingersoll, Rodewald, Kyle & Buerger, Pittsburgh, for appellee.
[ 241 Pa. Super. Page 46]
On July 23, 1974, appellant Rita L. McGannon filed a complaint for support pursuant to The Pennsylvania Civil Procedural Support Law*fn1 against the appellee, her husband George McGannon. An answer was subsequently filed and a special hearing date of August 21, 1974 was set. On that date, appellant and her counsel appeared before the hearing court. Appellee and his counsel were not present, apparently due to some confusion as to the date of the hearing, but appellee was represented by another attorney from his counsel's firm. The court proceeded to take appellant's testimony, after it was clearly established that the hearing was to continue at a later date. At the conclusion of appellant's testimony, counsel for appellee introduced a separation agreement, signed by both appellant and appellee, in defense
[ 241 Pa. Super. Page 47]
to appellant's claim for support. The court set dates by which briefs were to be filed and the hearing was generally continued.
On January 22, 1975, the lower court filed an opinion and order. The further hearing, contemplated by the parties and the court at the August 21, 1974 proceedings, had not taken place. The reasons for this lapse, and for the lower court's decision to enter an order prior to the completion of testimony, do not appear on the record. In its opinion, the court found that the "Separation Agreement" entered into by appellant and appellee did not make a fair and reasonable provision for support of the appellant-wife. Specifically, the court found that the agreement brought appellant "no more than what she would be entitled to in the way of a property settlement by virtue of the marriage." The order of court, dated January 16, 1975, directed appellee to pay $250.00 per month for the support of the appellant-wife.
On January 29, 1975, appellee filed a petition to vacate the order of January 16. A hearing date to review the above order was set for February 27, 1975. The appellant, the appellee and the attorney who represented appellant in the negotiation and drafting of the separation agreement all testified. On the basis of this hearing, the lower court issued a second opinion and order of court, dated May 2, 1975. This opinion stated that, after hearing the testimony on February 27, the court found that "adequate consideration passed to Mrs. McGannon to find the agreement to be binding on her in any action for support." This conclusion is supported by a list of "assets received by Mrs. McGannon which were not merely a division of jointly owned properties." By its order of May 2, 1975, the court vacated its order of January 16, 1975, and dismissed appellant's complaint in support.
For the reasons which follow, it is clear that the lower court's order of May 2, 1975, was correct in its result. One of the leading cases in this area is Ratony Estate,
[ 241 Pa. Super. Page 48443]
Pa. 454, 277 A.2d 791 (1971). In that case, a husband and wife executed a separation agreement which divided the proceeds from the sale of their marital home and mutually released one another from any claim on or interest in any property owned by either at any time in the future. At the death of the husband, the wife sought, in contravention of the separation agreement, to take against the husband's will.
The court in Ratony Estate, supra, points out that the same legal principles are applicable to both antenuptial and postnuptial agreements. We begin with the "general principle of law which has existed for centuries that mutual promises are binding upon the parties thereto and furnish valid consideration. Section 103, Williston on Contracts (3d Ed. 1957); § 75, ...