What is a Rule 69 Agreement in Arizona
You may have heard the term “Rule 69 agreement” if you are involved in a divorce, family law, child custody or child support case in Arizona and need to know what a Rule 69 agreement is 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, before a court reporter, or any other mediator or settlement conference officer appointed by the court to conduct a settlement conference.
Current Version of Rule 69 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure
The current text of Rule 69 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure is effective January 1, 2019 as follows:
Rule 69. Binding Agreements Currentness
(a) Validity. An agreement between the parties is valid and binding on the parties if:
(1) the agreement is in writing and signed by the parties personally or by counsel on a party’s behalf;
(2) the agreement’s terms are stated on the record before a judge, commissioner, judge pro tempore, or court reporter; or (3) the agreement’s terms are stated in an audio recording made before a mediator or a settlement conference officer appointed by the court.
(b) Court Approval.
An agreement under this rule is not binding on the court until it is submitted to and approved by the court as provided by law.
(c) Challenge to Validity.
An agreement under section (a) is presumed valid, and a party who challenges the validity of an agreement has the burden to prove any defect in the agreement. Under A.R.S. § 25-324, the court may award a party the costs and expenses of maintaining or defending a challenge to the validity of an agreement that was made in accordance with this rule.
Rule 69 Agreements Are Presumed to be Valid and Enforceable in Arizona
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.
He can reject the agreement if he or she determines the agreement is not in the best interests of the children. He or she can also reject agreements dividing assets and debts if he or she concludes the agreement is not fair and equitable. Lastly, he or she can reject the Rule 69 agreement if it 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 by 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.
When a Rule 69 Agreement 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.
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Chris Hildebrand wrote this article about Rule 69 agreements in Arizona to ensure everyone has access to information about family law in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and family law attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award.
Chris believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and, quite frankly, actually caring about what his clients are going through in a divorce or family law case.
In short, his practice is defined by the success of his clients. He also manages all of the other attorneys at his firm to make sure the outcomes in their clients’ cases are successful as well.