The short answer is “yes.” Generally, when parties sign a stipulated divorce decree resolving all of the issues in their case, that stipulation is “accorded the sanctity of binding contracts.” Shirk v. Shirk, 561 N.W.2d 519, 521 (Minn. 1997). Because of this, parties usually cannot get out of or withdraw from a signed stipulation, even if the stipulation has not been signed by the judge yet.
In order for a party to get out of a Stipulated Judgment and Decree which has been signed by a court, the court must consider:
- Whether the party was represented by an attorney;
- Whether negotiations were extensive and detailed;
- Whether the party agreed to the stipulation on the record in open court; and
- Whether the party acknowledged understanding the terms and considering them fair and equitable.
Tomscak v. Tomscak, 352 N.W.2d 464 (Minn. App. 1984).
If a party manages to convince the court that those four factors favor allowing him or her to repudiate the stipulation, the court may let the party out of the agreement. In practice, judges very rarely allow parties to get out of a signed stipulation.
Once the stipulated judgment and decree is signed and entered by the court, it becomes even harder to get out of the agreement. In order to withdraw from an agreement after it has been signed by the judge, the party must convince the court to reopen the judgment and decree. To do that, the party must convince the court that one of the following reasons exists:
- Mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;
- Newly discovered evidence that could have not been discovered earlier;
- That the judgment and decree is void; or
- It would be equitable to continue to apply the judgment and decree going forward.
Minn. Stat. 518.145, Subd. 2.
All of the reasons to reopen the judgment and decree are difficult to convince a judge to agree with, and a strict one-year timeline exists for the first three reasons. Even though the fifth reason appears to apply broadly, in practice, it is extremely rare for a judge to reopen a judgment and decree for this reason.
In other words, parties should assume that once they put pen to paper and sign a stipulated divorce decree, they are locked into the agreement they have signed.