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Cox v. Hefley

Court of Appeals of Utah

April 18, 2019

Cameron Michael Cox, Appellee,
Paige Charissa Hefley, Appellant.

          Second District Court, Ogden Department The Honorable W. Brent West No. 134901221

          David Pedrazas, Attorney for Appellant

          Lauren Forsyth and Kristopher K. Greenwood, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Kate Appleby authored this Opinion, in which Judges Jill M. Pohlman and Ryan M. Harris concurred.


          APPLEBY, JUDGE

         ¶1 Paige Charissa Hefley appeals the district court's order on competing petitions filed by Hefley and her former spouse, Cameron Michael Cox, to modify their divorce decree. She argues that the court erred by enforcing their stipulation (the Stipulated Decree). We affirm.


         ¶2 Cox and Hefley divorced in February 2014. The original divorce decree awarded Cox primary physical custody of their two minor children subject to Hefley's "reasonable parent-time." In a separate December 2015 case, Hefley was deemed a "vexatious litigant"[1] and ordered "to obtain legal counsel before filing any future claim for relief, and to furnish security to assure payment of any opposing party's reasonable expenses" (the Vexatious Litigant Order).

         ¶3 In January 2015, Hefley petitioned the district court to modify custody and parent-time. Cox counter petitioned, also requesting modifications to custody and parent-time. After more than two years of litigation on their competing petitions, Cox and Hefley signed the Stipulated Decree, which represented "a full and final agreement regarding all pending issues." It stated, "Both parties . . . stipulate to be fully bound by the following terms and conditions."

         ¶4 The Stipulated Decree "entitled [Hefley] to parent-time as the parties may agree in writing." But absent such agreement, Hefley would receive three days of unsupervised parent-time on alternating weeks. Hefley's unsupervised parent-time was conditioned on her complying with the following terms: (1) "submit to a comprehensive psychological evaluation by a qualified licensed psychologist" and obtain a "diagnosis, a therapy/treatment plan, and a medication plan"; (2) "initiate, maintain and successfully complete all treatment recommendations, medication recommendations, and related items"; (3) not have "any criminal charges, suicide attempts, or mental health hospitalizations"; (4) "not have any illegal and/or un-prescribed drugs or medications in her home, nor allow the children to be in the presence of any person who is under the influence of any illegal drugs or un-prescribed medications"; and (5) not "permit the children to be around domestic violence."

         ¶5 Cox and Hefley agreed to hire "a different licensed psychologist . . . to act as a third party neutral and mental health professional . . . to work with the parties to ensure that [Helfey] [was] following the court's orders." The Stipulated Decree required that the third party neutral have access to Hefley's medical records and be allowed to meet with the "parties' minor children and any other relevant party in this action, when necessary." If Hefley 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." Hefley agreed that she "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]."

         ¶6 About one month after Hefley signed the Stipulated Decree, Cox filed it with the district court. The next day, Hefley filed an "objection to entry of modified decree of divorce" and "motion to strike [the Stipulated Decree]." Hefley asserted that her attorney was not aware of and had not approved the Stipulated Decree until after she signed it, and claimed Cox's attorney "purposely went around [her attorney] and/or completely failed to seek his approval . . . prior to submitting the [Stipulated Decree] before the court." Further, Hefley argued that the "terms of the [Stipulated Decree] are completely contrary to Utah law." Specifically, she claimed the Stipulated Decree "transfer[s] the court's judicial authority to a nonqualified individual to make legal rulings without being subjected to review by [the] court" and "unreasonably restricts [Hefley] from filing any petition to modify if it is in the best interest of the children."

         ¶7 On September 26, 2017, the district court held a telephone conference at which it denied Hefley's motion to strike the Stipulated Decree, overruled her objection to entry of the Stipulated Decree, and said it would sign the Stipulated Decree as it had been submitted. The court also instructed Cox's attorney to "prepare an order." On the same day of the telephone conference, the court signed and entered the Stipulated Decree.

         ¶8 On October 18, 2017, the district court signed and entered a proposed order on the telephone conference. It provided: (1) "[Hefley's] objection to the entry of the [Stipulated Decree] is overruled"; (2) "[Hefley's] motion to set aside the [Stipulated Decree] is denied"; and (3) "the court approved the stipulation of the parties and will sign the order on the [Stipulated Decree] as it has been submitted."

         ¶9 Hefley filed a notice of appeal on November 8, 2017, giving notice of her appeal of the order on the telephone ...

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