Child Support Reduction Overturned: Uria v. Uria

Facts

piggybank01This Husband and Wife, after 2 children and 5 years of marriage, divorced. The parties attended mediation and submitted an Agreed Parenting Plan to the trial court. The Father’s monthly child support obligation was set at $667. However, the Mother later filed a Motion, which required the Father to bring proof of his income and other financial records to more accurately determine the child support obligation. The Father failed to appear at this hearing, and based on the Mother’s testimony at the hearing, the court entered an order establishing the Father’s child support at $1,126 per month, nearly double what the parties had agreed to in mediation.

Five years later, the Father petitioned the court to have his child support reduced. The trial court found that the child support should be reduced to $543 per month, but also determined that the Father owed a child support arrearage of $57,938. The Father then filed a Rule 60 motion to amend his final divorce decree, which was entered almost 6 years before this attempt to modify child support. The Wife argued that this Motion was not made within a reasonable time.

The trial court, however, found that the final divorce decree was based on inaccurate information regarding the Father’s income, and the court granted the Father’s motion, recalculating his child support obligation (which then lowered the arrearage amount to $15,962.). The Mother then appealed this decision to lower child support retroactively.

On Appeal

Under Rule 60.02 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, a court may relieve a party from a final order for the following reasons:
(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect;
(2) fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party
(3) the judgment is void
(4) the judgment has been satisfied, released or discharged, or a prior judgment upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that a judgment should have prospective application, or
(5) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment.

The Court of Appeals ultimately held that:
“[E]ven assuming that the evidence presented at the final divorce hearing was inaccurate, at most, it would constitute a mistake, and this fact alone would not justify setting aside the order more than six years later, considering the circumstances of this case. Father knew, shortly after the entry of the divorce decree, that he was ordered to pay $1,126 per month in child support rather than $667, as the parties had agreed during mediation. . . . Father had notice of the amount of his child support obligation because of a wage assignment in the amount of $1,126. Yet he did not seek to set aside the 2005 order until June 20, 2011. In the case of mistake, and, even in cases involving fraud or misconduct of an adverse party, a motion to set aside must be filed not more than one year after the judgment in question was entered. Clearly, Father’s motion to set aside was not made within a reasonable time under the circumstances of this case.

Therefore, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision to retroactively lower the Father’s child support obligation. The original provisions of the parties’ divorce decree were reinstated.

Information provided by Lauren Wilson Castles.If you have concerns about whether your child support obligation was calculated correctly, or if you would like to see whether you can seek a modification of child support (to increase or decrease), contact our office today to set up your free consultation!

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