What is a Rule 69 Agreement in Arizona
You may have hear the term "Rule 69 agreement" if you are involved in a divorce, family law, child custody or child support case in Arizona. The term "Rule 69 agreement" refers to the terms of a rule in Arizona family law cases affecting settlements in a family law case. The rule allows people to reach a binding agreement to settle all or just some of the issues in their case.
However, there are certain requirements that must be met in order to be a binding Rule 69 agreement. The rule requires the agreement must be in writing or the agreement must be stated on the record in court or before a Judge Pro Tem, or any other mediator or settlement conference officer appointed by the court to conduct a settlement conference.
Rule 69 Agreements Presumed Valid
Rule 69 agreements are presumed to be valid and binding. A person challenging the validity of the agreement has the burden of proving the invalidity of the agreement. However, the judge still has the authority to reject the agreement if he or she determines the agreement is either not in the best interests of the children, is not fair and equitable, or was entered into by a party because of duress or coercion.
The Arizona Supreme Court in the Peart v. Superior Court case held that parties are bound to the terms of a valid Rule 69 agreement unless the judge relieves them from the agreement. A person who signs a Rule 69 Agreement may argue he or she should be relieved from that agreement if he or she asserts and proves it is not in the children's best interests, was unfair and inequitable, or was signed under duress or coercion.
In such instances, the parties constitutional due process rights require a judge to hold a trial. Both parties are able to present relevant evidence as to the issues addressed in the agreement for the court to then determine if the Rule 69 agreement is enforceable.
In another appellate case, the Arizona Court of Appeals in the In re Murray case held that writings back and forth between the parties could be pieced together by the court to cause a Rule 69 agreement to have been created.
Rule 69 Agreements May Be Invalid
The Arizona Court of Appeals heard an interesting appeal regarding a Rule 69 agreement in the unpublished case of Reeder v. Johnson. In that case, the attorney who conducted the settlement conference was a Judge Pro Tem. However, the parties in that case hired that mediator to conduct their mediation privately, so he was not court appointed to conduct that particular settlement conference. Since he had not been appointed, his recording of the agreements and acceptance of their agreements was not a valid Rule 69 agreement.
The Arizona Court of Appeals case of Garn v. Garn addressed whether an attorney may bind his or her client through a Rule 69 agreement. An attorney has the apparent authority to handle the procedural aspects of his or her client's case without first having to obtain the client's permission or consent. However, that attorney cannot bind a client to a settlement of the case under Rule 69 without his or her client's consent. Any such agreement would not be binding on the party.