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Swanson v. Hernandez

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

April 3, 2018

KEVIN A. SWANSON, Appellant,
v.
JANICE HERNANDEZ, SAMANTHA SCHAEFFER, NATASHA TAMUL, and STATE OF MISSOURI, DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, FAMILY SUPPORT DIVISION and STATE OF GEORGIA, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, DIVISION OF CHILD SUPPPORT SERVICES, Respondents.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County 16SL-DR03813 Honorable John R, Essner, J.

          Gary M. Gaertner, Jr., Presiding Judge

         Introduction

         Kevin A. Swanson[1] (Father) appeals from the judgment of the circuit court of St. Louis County, Missouri regarding the registration and modification in Missouri of a New York child support order and the modification of two other child support orders. Father challenges the trial court's application of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (the UIFSA) and the trial court's denial of his claims regarding the aggregate total of his three child support obligations. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with instructions.

         Background

         Father is obligated to pay child support pursuant to three different child support orders on behalf of the following three minor children as follows, presented chronologically by date of the initial orders.

         S.M.S.: The Family Court of the State of New York, County of Erie (the Family Court of Erie County, NY) entered an initial order in 2011 ordering Father to pay child support to Janice Hernandez (Hernandez) on behalf of the minor child S.M.S., pursuant to file number 187795 (Hernandez order). The Family Court of Erie County, NY modified the initial support order in 2014 to $350.00 per month. Hernandez and S.M.S. have since relocated to Georgia, and Hernandez registered the New York order in Georgia. In 2016, the Family Court of Erie County, NY recognized the Georgia registration and divested itself of jurisdiction under the UIFSA because none of the parties reside in New York and Hernandez did not consent to jurisdiction in New York.

         While the record on appeal does not include documentation from a Georgia tribunal recognizing the registration or modification of the New York child support order in Georgia, the record includes documentation that the State of Georgia is enforcing aspects of the Hernandez order. Moreover, the State of Missouri, Department of Social Services, Family Support Division (FSD) indicated it was collecting child support payments from Father on behalf the Georgia Department of Health and Human Services, Child Support Services, which disburses the payments to Hernandez as the custodial parent. Thus, it appears the Hernandez order has been properly registered in the State of Georgia.

         S.R.S.: The circuit court of St. Louis County, Missouri entered an initial order in 2013 ordering Father to pay child support to Samantha Schaeffer (Schaeffer) on behalf of the minor child S.R.S., pursuant to cause number 13SL-DR03209 (Schaeffer order). Schaefer and S.R.S. have since relocated to Florida, but Missouri continues to be the state of continuing, exclusive jurisdiction for the Schaeffer order. In 2016, the St. Louis County circuit court modified the Schaeffer order to $450.00 per month.[2]

         A.R.S.: The circuit court of St. Louis County, Missouri entered a paternity judgment in 2014 ordering Father to pay $300.00 per month to Natasha Tamul (Tamul) on behalf of the minor child A.R.S., pursuant to cause number 13SL-DR00798 (Tamul order). Tamul and A.R.S. continue to reside in Missouri.

         In 2016, Father filed a multi-count petition in the circuit court of St. Louis County, Missouri in cause number 16SL-DR03813 in which he requested the following relief, as relevant to the issues raised on appeal. Father requested that the trial court (1) register the New York Hernandez order in Missouri for purposes of enforcement and modification; (2) modify the Hernandez order pursuant to the UIFSA; and (3) determine the amount of support due under all three support orders, seeking, inter alia, (a) a stay for each of the current income withholding orders that garnish more than 50% of his income, (b) a temporary order reducing the amount of his child-support obligations (in Missouri cause numbers 13SL-DR00798 and 13SL-DR03209-01, and the Family Court of Erie County, NY file number 187795) to $125.00 per month per child, payable by wage assignment, (c) for the trial court to issue a controlling order declaring Missouri the State of exclusive jurisdiction for all three orders, and (d) a determination of the proper allocation of his wage assignments or Missouri Division of Employment Security payments to each child-support obligation.

         Hernandez filed a Consent to Registration, Modification, and Temporary Order agreeing to a temporary reduction of Father's child support obligation to $125.00 per month for S.M.S. Later filings stated that Father and Hernandez had reached a private settlement, in which Hernandez consented to jurisdiction in Missouri to reduce Father's child support obligation and arrearages in exchange for Father's termination of his parental rights to S.M.S in connection with a step-parent adoption. Schaeffer filed a motion to dismiss herself from the case, arguing that Father could not modify the original Schaeffer order in cause number 13SL-DR03209 in this new cause of action. Tamul did not respond.

         After hearings on a variety of motions, the trial court issued its Judgment (I) granting Father's motion to register the New York Hernandez order in Missouri for purposes of enforcement, but (2) denying Father's request to modify the Hernandez order noting that Georgia has current jurisdiction over the Hernandez order, and (3) denying Father's request to declare that Missouri has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over all three orders, noting (a) while Missouri has controlling jurisdiction over the Tamul order and the Schaeffer order, it does not have authority to issue a controlling order over the Hernandez order, (b) each separate support case must be addressed individually, and (c) both Missouri and Georgia already follow the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA), which sets guidelines for income withholding orders. Father moved for an amended judgment or a new trial, which the trial court denied. This appeal follows.

         Discussion

         Father raises four points on appeal. He first argues the trial court erred in failing to register the New York Hernandez order for the purposes of modification under the UIFSA. Second, he argues the trial court erred in failing to forward the pleadings and papers to Georgia under Section 454.1563.[3] In his third and fourth points, Father challenges the trial court's failure to rule on his claim that the aggregate amount of his three child support orders exceeded his ability to pay, questioning whether the State is permitted to create multiple child support orders where the sum of the aggregate orders is greater than his ability to pay, and arguing that Missouri law places the interests of the parent receiving child support over the constitutional liberty interest of the parent paying child support to maintain and keep a home. We address the third and fourth points together.

         Standard ...


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