California Court Upholds Contested Stipulated Judgment in Divorce Action

A stipulated judgment is used in many different kinds of court actions. Essentially, it is an agreement between the parties to settle a case. In a divorce proceeding, spouses who are able to agree on all the matters surrounding their separation can submit a stipulated judgment to the court. In order to be effective, the agreement must be signed by both spouses. The stipulation typically identifies the parties’ agreements about the division of property and debts, child and spousal support, and child custody and visitation. If you are considering a divorce, it is important to understand the legal and practical ramifications of entering into a stipulated judgment with your spouse. You are encouraged to contact a local San Diego family law attorney who will be able to answer any questions you may have.

In a recent California divorce case, the parties disputed the appropriate terms of the stipulated “global” settlement. Here, the couple got married in 1980 and separated in 2010. Husband filed for divorce that same year, and a court granted a “status only” judgment in November 2012. This means that, although the couple was officially divorced, the court had yet to resolve the attendant issues of property division and other related items. The parties reached an agreement covering the division of their assets after spending nearly a month in the trial court. At issue in this case was the disposition of more than one million shares of stock.

In a unique set of circumstances, once the couple finally reached a mutually satisfactory agreement as to the division of stock, husband’s counsel hand wrote the stipulated settlement. The agreement allocated the entire amount of stock between the parties. Wife refused to sign the agreement because it had been handwritten, claiming she was unable to read it. Her attorney followed up with another stipulation, which everyone signed. However, like the first (handwritten) stipulation, the second stipulation did not divide the entire lot of shares. That agreement left more than 300,000 shares unaccounted for. The trial court entered an agreement that reflected the first stipulation. Wife appealed, alleging:  1) that she was denied due process; and 2) that the judgment did not reflect the agreed upon stipulation (the second version) – under which she would be entitled to a larger share of the stock. She claimed to be entitled to a reversal and to having the trial court divide certain shares in accordance with California Family Code Section 2556.

The court of appeals affirmed the decision, pointing out that in this case, it was bound by the trial court’s resolution of the factual disputes and findings of credibility. According to the court, the stipulation was characterized as a “global” one, leaving no remaining issues to be addressed. If the court reversed the judgment, the outcome would suggest that husband waived his right to the balance of certain stock after the first stipulation was signed and before the second one was agreed to. The court concluded that wife’s position regarding the stipulated judgment would “fly in the face of” the evidence produced by the parties.

While this is an unpublished decision, the underlying legal principles may still serve to inform future court cases involving divorce judgments. It is extremely important to understand how local California laws and principles can affect your financial rights in a divorce proceeding. Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties involved in family law disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt and Forney, APLC serves clients throughout Southern California, including in San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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