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Dismissal of Protective Order was Unwarranted Following Email Violation

In Richardson v. Rupper, the Court of Appeals of Utah upheld a trial court's decision denying a husband's request to dismiss a protective order. The appeals court determined that the conditions for removal of the protective order were violated as a result of an email sent by the husband to his wife.

Background and Procedural History

The parties were married in 1993 and had one child together. The wife initiated divorce proceedings and asked the court to issue a protective order. In 2003, the court issued a protective order granting custody of the parties' child to the wife and further stating that the husband was prohibited from directly or indirectly communicating with the wife, "except as provided for in the Divorce Action."

In 2005, the trial court issued a modified protective order that restricted communications between the parents to matters relating to scheduling and exercising visitation.

In 2009, the parties entered into a stipulation to resolve the remaining disputed issues in their pending divorce case. The parties agreed that communications between one another would be conducted only through email or phone calls, and that the communications would be "civil" and restricted to matters concerning their minor child. The stipulation further provided that the protective order would be dismissed on January 1, 2011, provided that no violations of the protective order had occurred between June 18, 2009, and January 1, 2011.

On June 8, 2010, the husband sent an email to the wife, stating: "You have used the [protective order] as a legal weapon for money, power, and control.... [T]his thing broke down over communications and it is impacting all of us.... Drop it."

A Final Decree of Divorce was Subsequently Issued in December, 2010.

The husband subsequently filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the protective order. The trial court denied the request on the basis that the parties' communications were governed by the 2009 stipulation and not the 2003 court order. The trial court determined that the stipulation took immediate effect and was binding upon both parties as a contract, even though the stipulation was not approved and signed as part of the final divorce decree until December 2010. The trial court also determined that a dismissal of the protective order was not warranted because the husband's June 2010 email to the wife violated the protective order by discussing matters unrelated to the child.

The husband filed an appeal of the ruling in the Court of Appeals.

The Ruling by the Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's decision. When the parties signed the 2009 stipulation, it was immediately binding upon both parties as a contract, even before it was entered into the record as part of the trial court's final divorce decree. A stipulation is a contract and the parties are bound by their promises unless they have been released from the agreement by the court. The parties' stipulation provided that dismissal of the protective order was expressly conditioned on each party's compliance with the protective order. The husband's email violated the terms of the parties' stipulation by discussing matters that were not within the scope of a permitted communication. His demand that his wife drop the protective order was unconnected to matters relating to the minor child.

Contact an Attorney

Individuals facing issues relating to divorce, child custody or other domestic relations matters are urged to consult with a competent attorney, experienced in family law matters, to ensure the protection of their legal rights.