TO: Joint Procedure Committee
FROM: Mike Hagburg
DATE: April 29, 2016
RE: Stipulated Divorce Forms
Catie Palsgraf, the director of the N.D. Legal Self Help Center, is working on revising the center's stipulated divorce forms. She has requested that the committee look at a proposed new signature block for these forms that was suggested by two ECJD judges.
The proposed new signature block, attached, would allow the judge reviewing the stipulated divorce to adopt the parties' "Agreement as to Facts" as the Court's Findings of Facts and the parties' "Stipulated Terms for Judgment" as the Court's Conclusions of Law. The judge would then "let judgment be entered accordingly."
Ms. Palsgraf is concerned that adopting this signature block, which would allow judges to order judgment in a divorce without creating their own Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (or ordering the parties to do so) would be problematic. First, the Supreme Court has said that the Court prefers judges to do their own Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. See Schmidkunz v. Schmidkunz, 529 N.W.2d 857 (N.D. 1995) (attached). Rule 52(a) also states "the court must find the facts specially and state its conclusions of law separately."
Second, other judges reviewing the proposal have suggested that adopting the parties' forms as the court's Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law would make it difficult to correct mistakes or to make modifications. The forms, current draft attached, are fill in the blank forms that can be submitted in paper by self-represent parties, perhaps even in handwriting. In addition, attorneys can and do use forms on the Self Help site in their own practice and they could find these forms useful in shortcutting the usual process of preparing detailed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.
Ms. Palsgraf asks that the committee examine the proposed signature block to see whether it would be consistent with accepted practice to use it in a stipulated divorce.