Shih Ping Li v. Tzu Lee

Decision Date04 March 2013
Docket NumberNo. 2622,No. 0727,Sept. Term, 2011.,Sept. Term, 2010.,0727,2622
Citation62 A.3d 212,210 Md.App. 73
PartiesSHIH PING LI v. TZU LEE. Shih Ping Li v. Tzu Lee.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland


Barton D. Moorestein, (Blank & Moorestein, LLP, on the brief), Rockville, MD., for Appellant.

Geraldine W. Hess, (Hess Family Law, on the brief), Rockville, MD., for Appellee.

Panel: ZARNOCH, WRIGHT and LAWRENCE F. RODOWSKY, (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.


This case arises out of the Circuit Court of Montgomery County's denial of appellant, Shih Ping Li's (“Husband”), motions to set aside the settlement agreements he entered with appellee, Tzu “Cindy” Lee (“Wife”), in 2005 and 2008. On April 19, 2010, the circuit court held a hearing on Husband's Motion to Set Aside the First and Second Agreements (Motion to Set Aside). The circuit court ruled that the agreements were valid because they were not unconscionable and no confidential relationship existed between Husband and Wife or between the parties and the attorney who represented Wife in preparing the agreements. The agreements were subsequently incorporated, but not merged, into the parties' Judgment for Absolute Divorce. Husband filed a timely appeal from the circuit court's denial of his Motion to Set Aside. While that appeal was pending, Husband filed a Motion to Revise on October 14, 2011, seeking to have the agreements invalidated. The first appeal was stayed and the circuit court was instructed to consider Husband's Motion to Revise. On December 27, 2011, the circuit court denied Husband's Motion to Revise and on January 24, 2012, Husband noted an appeal from that denial. On October 9, 2012, the appeals were consolidated.

Questions Presented

Husband presents several questions for our review,1 which we have consolidated and rephrased as follows:

[210 Md.App. 80]1. Did the trial court err in determining that no confidential relationships existed and the Agreements were valid?

2. Did the trial court err or abuse its discretion in denying Husband's Motion to Revise?

For the reasons that follow, we find no error or abuse of discretion and affirm the circuit court's judgments.

Facts and Procedural History

Husband and Wife met in Taiwan in 1977 and had a brief romantic relationship. Both subsequently married other partners and had children. The parties rekindled their romance in approximately 1989 or 1990, when both were still married to their respective spouses and Wife was living in Toronto, Canada.

Husband divorced his first wife in 2002, with a Voluntary Separation and Property Settlement Agreement dated October 17, 2001, incorporated into the Judgment of Absolute Divorce. Pursuant to that agreement, Husband paid $800 per month in child support, twenty percent of exceptional expenses, maintained coverage for his two minor children on his health insurance, and was responsible for a proportion of the college expenses for his two children. 2When Wife divorced her first husband in 1994, according to an agreement executed on December 29, 1993, she received no monetary support for herself or her daughter.

When Husband and Wife were contemplating marriage, Husband was employed by the United States Government earning $108,985 per year.3 Wife was employed with a private company as an accountant earning approximately $65,000. Before marrying, Husband and Wife sought to change Wife's immigration status and obtain Lawful Permanent Resident (“LPR”) status for her. To do so, they sought the assistance of Yu Gu, an immigration attorney, recommended by one of Wife's work friends.

In 2002, Gu prepared an application for adjustment of permanent resident status for Wife, which included the I–130 form, “Petition for Alien Relative,” and an I–864 form, the “Affidavit of Support.” Husband was designated as the petitioner and Wife was the beneficiary. In order to prepare the forms, Husband, without physically meeting or communicating with Gu, provided his 2002 tax return information as well as bank statements documenting a joint account for Husband and Wife. Gu prepared and submitted the application forms to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) on June 30, 2003. Wife's application was ultimately approved on April 12, 2005, and she was granted conditional permanent resident status based on her marriage to Husband, a naturalized citizen.4

Husband and Wife were married to each other on June 12, 2003. After marrying, the parties decided to sell their pre-marital homes and purchase a marital home together. The parties purchased a home at 508 Oak Knoll Terrace, Rockville, Maryland (“Oak Knoll house”), with Husband contributing $100,000 from the sale of his former home and Wife contributing $82,000 from the sale of hers. The parties incurred a joint mortgage payment of $6,000 on the Oak Knoll house with Husband contributing $4,000 per month and Wife contributing $2,000 per month toward the payment. The parties made payments out of a joint checking account. On the mortgage application, Husband listed his employer as the United States Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), with a monthly income of $11,675, or a yearly income of approximately $140,100. Husband's W–2 tax form from 2004 listed his employer as the United States Department of Transportation and his earnings as $125,689.36.

In 2005, the parties decided to downsize their residence and contracted to build a new home in Frederick, Maryland, located at 4003 Bowling Green Lane (the “Frederick house”). Later the same year, Wife discovered that Husband had engaged in an affair resulting in the parties discussing divorce. The parties decided to prepare a separation agreement (“the First Agreement”) in part to guarantee that Wife, having sold her former home, would continue to have a residence. Initially, the parties considered trying to repurchase Wife's Gaithersburg townhouse but the price had increased too much. The parties agreed to title the Frederick house in Wife's name only and that Husband would continue to contribute the same amount ($4,000) toward the mortgage expense.

Wife contacted Gu to prepare an agreement and told Husband that Gu would be her representative. Husband was not contacted by Gu during the preparation of the agreement and Husband never met Gu. Gu prepared the First Agreement according to the terms indicated by Wife. Wife presented the First Agreement drafted by Gu to Husband in the fall of 2005. Husband reviewed the draft First Agreement and edited it by adding a provision to reduce his obligation in the event he lost his job or otherwise suffered a salary reduction and also by capping his obligation at $4,000 regardless of whether his salary increased. The First Agreement provided for the $4,000 payment to be made as indefinite, non-modifiable alimony, with the payment to be applied toward the mortgage. The First Agreement contained a provision stating that Gu had represented only Wife in drafting the agreement and advised Husband to seek independent counsel.

The parties reconciled after executing the First Agreement. They sold the Oak Knoll house and applied the proceeds of the sale toward the Frederick house. Both parties moved into the Frederick house. In July 2006, Husband began living with his mother in Rockville, Maryland, during the weekdays and he returned to the Frederick house on weekends.

In 2007, the parties petitioned to have the conditions removed from Wife's immigration status. Gu was again used to prepare the necessary paperwork and she filed an I–751 form, or Petition to Remove Condition.” To facilitate preparation of the petition, Wife provided Gu with the parties' joint tax returns 5 and other joint records, including auto insurance, health insurance, home insurance, bank account statements, and mortgage statements. Husband had no contact with Gu during the preparation of this petition.

In mid- to late–2007, Wife discovered Husband had engaged in another affair causing the parties to again discuss divorce. Husband was now employed by the Comptroller of the Currency earning $171,332, not including benefits. Husband's two children were now adults, and his support obligations for them were nearing conclusion. As before, Wife contacted Gu to draft a new separation agreement(“Second Agreement”). Gu did so, according to terms provided by Wife, e-mailed the draft to Wife, and Wife then e-mailed the draft to Husband in the Fall of 2007.

The parties discussed the terms of the new agreement, ultimately negotiating terms different from the original draft. Negotiated changes included limiting the alimony as non-taxable to Wife and non-deductible to Husband to a three-year term instead of indefinitely. The parties exchanged marked-up versions of the Second Agreement with Wife providing these to Gu to make the changes. Gu did so, and Wife forwarded the amended Second Agreement to Husband. On January 31, 2008, Husband e-mailed Wife stating that he thought the Second Agreement, not yet executed, was unfair to him and he wanted to rethink it.

On February 4, 2008, Husband returned a marked-up version of the Second Agreement to Wife. In an e-mail to Wife, Husband stated:

I have made the changes that we've agreed:

1. Made the non-taxable alimony period to be 3 years after separation;

2. Provide life insurance of $300K to you for 3 years after separation; and

3. Agreed to pay any tax liability for you for the non-taxable alimony payments;

I hope to make this easy for you and Gu to review. Let me know what changes you would want.

I will get the court paperwork to find out what I have to file.

On February 5, 2008, Husband e-mailed Wife a clean copy of the Second Agreement with one additional change. Wife agreed to the changes made by Husband and Gu prepared the final document. Gu e-mailed the final document to Wife, who forwarded it to Husband. On February 18, 2008, the parties met in a parking lot near Wife's work and went together to Falls Grove Chase Bank, where they...

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