Parties cannot stipulate away the district court’s statutory responsibility to conduct a best-interest analysis.

April 18, 2019

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 with to have unsupervised visitation. The Mother later sought to set aside the agreement claiming that it restricted her from filing a petition to modify and preventing the court from addressing best interests or changes in circumstances. The Court of Appeals disagreed, stating:

¶32 [The Mother] argues that the Stipulated Decree “unreasonably restricts [her] from filing any petition to modify in this matter.” Specifically, she claims “it prevents the court from ever addressing the best interest of the children or change in circumstances, even in the case of abuse and/or neglect.” We also reject this argument.

¶33 “[P]arties cannot stipulate away the district court’s statutory responsibility to conduct a best-interest analysis . . . to ensure that any custody arrangement . . . serves the child’s best interest.” R.B. v. L.B., 2014 UT App 270, ¶ 16, 339 P.3d 137; see also Sill v. Sill, 2007 UT App 173, ¶ 9, 164 P.3d 415 (determining that a “non-modification provision did not divest the court of its continuing jurisdiction” to consider a petition to modify alimony).

¶34 Here, the relevant language provides that [the Mother] “shall not file any type of petition to modify in this case until she has successfully completed the terms and conditions stated herein, and complies with the [Vexatious Litigant Order].” On appeal, [the Father] argues that this provision does not prevent [the Mother] from filing a petition to modify the Stipulated Decree. Instead, he asserts it requires only that [the Mother] comply with the Vexatious Litigant Order before filing such a petition. We agree with [the Father] that [the Mother] would be required to comply with the Vexatious Litigant Order “regardless of it being in the [Stipulated Decree].” ¶35 By statute, the district court “has continuing jurisdiction to make subsequent changes or new orders for the custody of a child and the child’s support . . . as is reasonable and necessary.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(3) (LexisNexis Supp. 2018). Thus, although [the Mother] must comply with the Vexatious Litigant Order, she may petition to modify the Stipulated Decree if “there have been changes in the circumstances upon which the previous award was based that are sufficiently substantial and material to justify reopening the question.” See Blocker v. Blocker, 2017 UT App 10, ¶ 11, 391 P.3d 1051 (quotation simplified).

¶36 In sum, we conclude that the terms of the Stipulated Decree are not contrary to Utah law.

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

To read entire case, Click HERE.

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