Stipulations may be upheld that are not unduly restrictive of judicial review or authority so as long as the order does not impede the court to retain jurisdiction or to make subsequent changes and orders as are reasonable and necessary.

Cox v. Hefley, 2019 UT App 60 (Filed April 18, 2019).

In this case, a Mother and Father signed an agreement to modify the previous orders relating to the Mother’s parent time and certain conditions the Mother would have to be in compliance. The agreement provided:

“If [the Mother] failed to comply with the terms of the Stipulated Decree, the parties agreed that supervised parent-time would “be imposed until all appropriate treatment is recommended, complied with, completed, and the third party neutral has no safety concerns for the minor children.” The Stipulated Decree also provided, “If the parties do not comply with these terms, the third party neutral may make further restrictions to parent-time arrangements as deemed necessary.” 

The Mother sought to set aside the stipulation arguing that the actions of the third-party neutral were not reviewable by the court. The Court of Appeals disagreed, stating:

¶30 Further, we disagree with [the Mother’s] claim that the third party neutral’s decisions regarding parent-time “are unreviewable by the court.” The Stipulated Decree does not intrude on the court’s “continuing jurisdiction to make subsequent changes or new orders . . . as is reasonable and necessary.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(3). “[T]his court has previously explained that where the parties’ stipulation is accepted by the [district] court and incorporated into its divorce order, the subject matter of the stipulation is within the continuing jurisdiction of the court.” Sill v. Sill, 2007 UT App 173, ¶ 11, 164 P.3d 415 (quotation simplified). And “even when the parties in a custody dispute agree to be bound by an evaluator’s findings, the district court retains the ultimate authority to preside over the proceedings, to satisfy itself that the evaluator’s recommendations were properly arrived at, and to enter a final order.” R.B., 2014 UT App 270, ¶ 14 (quotation simplified).

¶31 Here, by approving the Stipulated Decree, the court “merely agreed to follow a process for the determination of the best interests of [the children] and to uphold this process so long as it adequately served that end.” In re E.H., 2006 UT 36, ¶ 21. Indeed, [the Father] acknowledges that each party may file objections and motions, request relief from the court, and seek judicial review of any action taken by the third party neutral. [The Mother] gives us no reason to conclude otherwise. Thus, we reject her argument that the Stipulated Decree allows the third party neutral “to make legal rulings without being subjected to review by the court.”

Cox v. Hefley, 2019 UT App 60 (Filed April 18, 2019).

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