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Goers v. Goers

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

October 4, 2016


         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County Cause No. 11SL-DR05300-01 Honorable Thomas J. Frawley

          Colleen Dolan, Judge

         I. Introduction

         Christopher Goers (Father) appeals the judgment entered by the motion court following a hearing on Father's motion to modify child support ordered to be paid to Cynthia Quick Goers (Mother). Father requested the court terminate both his obligation to pay child support and his obligation to pay half of any uninsured dental and medical expenses of his children retroactive to October 2013. Father's motion was granted in part and denied in part. We affirm the decision of the court.

         II. Facts and Procedural Background

         Father and Mother married on February 14, 1998, and had three children: M.G. (22), S.G. (19), and C.G. (17). All three children live with their Mother, and the two youngest are unemancipated at the present time.[1]

         On December 21, 2012, the St. Louis County Family Court entered a judgment of dissolution of marriage and awarded Mother sole physical and legal custody of the children. The court ordered Father to pay $480 per month for the three minor children as well as one half of their uninsured medical expenses, retroactive to November 1, 2012.[2] At the time, Father was not working and agreed to enter minimum wage ($1, 260 per month) into the presumed child support amount calculation worksheet (Civil Procedure Form No. 14) for his imputed income.[3] Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 88.01.[4] Mother worked at St. Louis Children's Hospital earning $1, 950 per month, and was ordered to pay the remainder of the children's costs. Mother has paid for all of the children's costs since the time of judgment because Father has never made a payment to her for child support.[5] Father filed a motion to modify child support on September 18, 2013, requesting the court terminate his child support obligation after he was remanded to the Missouri Department of Corrections.[6] Father was remanded to custody on August 9, 2013, and was incarcerated until January 30, 2015. During that time, he earned $8.50 per month from the State. Father's convictions were set aside on January 22, 2015, and he was granted a new trial. Father ultimately entered an Alford plea[7] on two new counts of child molestation and was sentenced to two years with credit for time served. He returned to prison on June 4, 2015, and was released December 2, 2015.

         On November 19, 2014, the motion court held a hearing on Father's first motion to modify child support. On December 8, 2014, the court entered judgment granting father's motion in part and denying in part. The court ordered that Father must pay Mother $25 per week for the support of the children, retroactive to June 19, 2014. On March 6, 2015, the court granted a new trial based on Mother's motion to amend judgment or, in the alternative, motion for a new trial and set aside its original order and judgment. Additionally, the court allowed Father to file an amended motion to modify. Father filed his first amended motion to modify child support on March 12, 2015, asking the court to terminate his child support obligation and his obligation to pay half of uninsured dental and medical expenses of children. He requested that order be made retroactive to October 2013, when Mother was served with summons and Father's first motion to modify.

         At trial on April 1, 2015, Father told the court he was actively seeking employment. He also stated he had a GED and experience working in construction, maintenance, and as a laborer. Father testified he was not in good health and was trying to qualify for disability. He testified his health prevented him from working in construction or as a laborer, and he had a skin condition that prevents him from working in the food industry.[8] At the time of the hearing, he stated he could not obtain a job because of the pending charges against him. He stated he had no monthly income and he relied on the financial support of others.

         Mother testified that Father owed approximately $12, 332.53 at the time of the hearing, and she had received no payments for child support from him after the judgment was entered. She testified Father worked throughout their 15-year marriage. The court entered its Second Amended Findings, Conclusions, Order and Judgment on April 13, 2015, finding Father had demonstrated a substantial and continuing change in circumstances since entry of the judgment of dissolution of marriage, rendering the amount of child support unreasonable. The court granted Father's motion in part by ordering that beginning April 17, 2015, Father pay $100 per week for support of the children, retroactive to October 11, 2013. The court granted Mother a lien on Father's Missouri Department of Corrections account and ordered that Mother pay all reasonable and necessary medical expenses of the children. Father filed a motion to amend or modify judgment or for a new trial on May 13, 2015, pursuant to Rules 73.01(c) and 78.04. The court denied his motion and this appeal follows.

         III. Standard of Review

         A court has the discretion to determine whether to modify a parent's child support obligation, "and the trial court's decision will be reversed only for abuse of discretion or misapplication of the law." Breuer v. Breuer, 449 S.W.3d 409, 412 (Mo. App. E.D. 2014) (internal quotations omitted). "An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's ruling is so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration." Kropf v. Jones, 489 S.W.3d 830, 834 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015). A court determines child support in conformity with § 452.340 RSMo 2000[9] and applicable Missouri Supreme Court rules. Breuer, 449 S.W.3d at 414. Modification of child support is governed by § 452.370, [10]which states: "the provisions of any decree respecting maintenance or support may be modified only upon a showing of changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms unreasonable." Brown v. Brown, 19 S.W.3d 717, 724 (Mo. App. W.D. 2000). The burden of proof is on the parent seeking the modification. Id.

         In Oberg v. Oberg, the Western District held that a father's imprisonment for two years did not justify a modification of his child support obligation of $200 per month even though his salary dropped from $3, 000 to $15.00 and he had zero assets. 869 S.W.2d 235, 239 (Mo. App. W.D. 1993). The court held, "Although incarceration is not itself a voluntary situation, it is the foreseeable consequence of behavior that is voluntary and intentional. Therefore, incarceration does not excuse the obligation to support the needs of one's children." Id. at 238. The court additionally held that such motions made by an incarcerated parent should be considered "on a case-by-case basis" and courts have "considerable discretion." Id. The court went on to list a number of factors a court should consider in determining the appropriate amount of child support for an incarcerated parent:

(1) [T]he length of incarceration experienced for the current conviction and the anticipated remaining ...

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