Villares v. Pineda – 3/6/2008

March 11, 2008

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Vacates Temporary Orders of the Family Court Issued As Result of Resolution Management Conference Because Orders Addressed Contested Issues of Fact in Violation of Rules of Family Law Procedure.

After Wife filed for divorce, Wife and Husband attended a Resolution Management Conference (RMC) the purpose of which is to “encourage the resolution of family law cases using non-adversarial means of alternative dispute resolution.”  Rules of Family Law Procedure (R.F.L.P.) 66(A).  In preparation for the RMC, each party filed proposed resolution statements, but only Wife filed an affidavit of financial information.

At the RMC, the family court issued temporary orders requiring, among other things, the Wife to find employment in order to pay food, gas, and miscellaneous living expenses.  The family court also changed the child custody arrangements and ordered temporary spousal and child support.  Wife objected, noting that Husband had not even filed an affidavit of financial information.  Wife also objected to the temporary orders on due process grounds, arguing that the court should hold an evidentiary hearing.  After the family court rejected Wife’s objections and a subsequent motion for reconsideration, Wife filed a special action.

The ArizonaAppeals Court accepted jurisdiction and vacated the orders of the family court.  As for special action jurisdiction, the Court explained that the temporary orders were preparatory in nature as they were made in anticipation of trial, meaning that they could not be challenged by way of an ordinary appeal.  Turning to the merits, the Court noted the limited purpose of the RMC, and further explained that R.F.L.P. 47(d) provides that if issues remain after an RMC, “the court shall then set an evidentiary hearing not later than thirty (30) days thereafter to resolve the remaining issues unless the parties agree to a different timeframe or procedure.”  Furthermore, the rule states that “the court shall not resolve disputed issues of fact at a pretrial conference or Resolution Management Conference absent agreement of the parties.”  R.F.L.P. 47(d).  Finally, the Court rejected Husband’s claim that the temporary orders were valid under A.R.S. § 25-404(A).  While that statute allows the court to award temporary custody, such an order may only issue “after a hearing, or if there is no objection, solely on the basis of the pleadings.”  Because the custody arrangement was contested at the RMC, the family court should not have issued an order regarding custody without a hearing.

Judge Orozco authored the opinion, with Judges Barker, Presiding Judge, and Timmer concurring.