There is no statute or common-law rule allow a court to expand or add to a stipulated nondisparagement clause contained in a final decree of divorce (not involving children).

February 21, 2020

Robertson v. Stevens, 2020 UT App 29 (Filed February 21, 2020) In this post divorce case wherein the decree provided a limited nondisparagement clause, one of the parties sought to modify and enlarge the clause to a broader context and further restraints.  The district court dismissed.  The party seeking the expansion appealed.  The appeals court affirmed, stating:

But no statute gives courts continuing jurisdiction to revisit stipulated nondisparagement clauses found in divorce decrees, at least where such clauses do not concern children, and Stevens does not invoke rule 60 or any other rule purporting to give a court the authority to alter a final judgment.

¶8 Instead, and in the absence of authority grounded in statute or rule, Stevens asserts that district courts have “broad discretionary powers” to revisit the terms of a divorce decree. But Stevens cites no statute or common-law rule to support his position that the court should be permitted to expand or add to a stipulated nondisparagement clause contained in a final decree of divorce. Indeed, common-law principles of continuing jurisdiction generally pertain to the court’s power to enforce and give effect to its orders. See, e.g., Little Cottonwood, 2016 UT 45, ¶¶ 24, 33 (acknowledging the courts’ inherent power to “enforce a final judgment” and to make orders “necessary to carry out and give effect to their decrees” (quotation simplified)). These principles do not generally extend to modifying the substantive rights of parties that have previously been agreed to or adjudicated. See id. ¶¶ 21–35 (determining that common-law principles could not be used to modify the parties’ substantive water rights as previously adjudicated). And Stevens has not pointed us to any common-law principles that might be construed as an exception to these general rules.

¶9 Therefore, we determine that the district court lacked jurisdiction to modify the nondisparagement clause in the Decree. Because the district court lacked jurisdiction, it “retain[ed] only the authority to dismiss the action.” Varian– Eimac, 767 P.2d at 570. We therefore affirm the district court’s dismissal of Stevens’s petition to modify.

To read entire case, click HERE.

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