Is a stipulation to a change of jurisdiction from another state to California under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act effective if it is signed only by the parties’ attorneys and not by the parties themselves? In Knabe v. Brister, case no. C053225 (3d Dist. Sept. 6, 2007), the Court of Appeal says it is.
Family Code section 4960, subdivision (a)(2), part of California’s implementation of the UIFSA, requires (among other things) that before a California court can modify a child support order issued in another state, “all of the parties who are individuals have filed written consents in the issuing tribunal for a tribunal of this state to modify the support order and assume continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the order.” Knabe insisted that because he did not sign the stipulation, this requirement was not satisfied.
The distinction between procedural and substantive rights — the normal division between what an attorney may bind a client to and what he may not — is complicated in family law cases, says Stanley-Wallace Law, by the “complex and ongoing relationship between the parties and the matters they seek to resolve.” While an attorney may not bind a client to a stipulation that resolves issues “central to the controversy,” an attorney may stipulate on behalf of the client to resolution of matters “which are insubstantial and collateral to the heart of the dispute.”
Here, even though the agreement to a change in jurisdiction is “a more significant procedural matter than simply agreeing to a continue a motion hearing to a new date,” it nonetheless “did not touch the heart of the dispute.” “Indeed, the stipulation did not narrow any of the issues to be resolved on the merits of the motion.” Thus, Knabe was bound by his attorney’s stipulation to the change in jurisdiction.