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Martin v. Martin

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

May 20, 2015


Session March 10, 2015

Appeal from the Chancery Court for Carroll County No. 20-DR-147 Paul G. Summers, Judge

Thomas C. Gorham, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Dawn Noles Martin (Gorham)

Steven L. West, Huntingdon, Tennessee, for the appellee, Matthew Kendall Martin

Kenny Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Arnold B. Goldin, J., and Brandon O. Gibson, J., joined.



I. Factual History and Procedure

Appellant Dawn Noles Martin ("Mother") was divorced from Appellee Matthew Kendall Martin ("Father") by a Divorce Judgment entered on October 9, 2000, in the Chancery Court of Carroll County. At the time of divorce, the parties had a son, age four, and a daughter, age two. At the time of the modification hearing in December 2013, which is the subject of this appeal, the parties' son and daughter were 17 and 15, respectively. The Divorce Judgment set Father's child support obligation at

$350.00 per month . . . being paid as follows, namely [Father] shall pay [Mother's] car payment in the amount of $278.00 per month and shall pay directly to the [Mother] the sum of $50.00 per week beginning October 13, 2000 and continuing each and every week thereafter until [Mother's] car is paid off, at which time the [Father] shall pay unto the [Mother] the sum of $87.50 per week pending further orders of the court.

Both of the payment options listed above created a payment schedule in excess of the court ordered child support amount of $350.00 per month. The parties acknowledged that Father paid child support through September 2003. We will analyze Father's child support obligation based on the court ordered amount of $350.00 per month rather than the schedule of payments outlined in the Divorce Judgment.

In contradiction of the Divorce Judgment, the parties exercised equal parenting time, alternating parenting time on a weekly basis. Accordingly, the parties mutually agreed to cut Father's child support obligation in half because they were equally dividing parenting time, but never obtained a court order approving the modification.

In December 2000, Mother moved to Nashville. In August 2001, the parties' son started school and moved in with Father. The parties' daughter continued to live primarily with Mother. The parties still alternated weekends so that the children spent every weekend together with one of the parents. This parenting schedule was maintained until December 2009. From October 2003 through December 2009, Father paid no child support, nor did he file a petition to modify support.

In December 2009, the parties' son moved to Nashville and began living with Mother. The parties agreed to send their son to a private high school. The testimony of the parties conflicted as to what child support payments were actually made by Father in 2010. Upon cross examination, Father admitted he had no receipts or proof of child support payments for the year 2010. In January 2011, Father began paying child support via payroll deduction in the amount of $200 every two weeks, which is the equivalent of $433.33 per month. Mother testified that the money paid by Father above the original child support amount was for the children's private school tuition. Father argued that the additional funds were given to Mother in order to "help out, " but that they were not designated for tuition.

Mother submitted a ledger of child support payments from October 2003 through December 2012, which included interest on the unpaid amounts. Mother's ledger indicated that Father should have paid $43, 050 in child support but paid only $13, 700 plus an additional $3, 600 in tuition. Mother's ledger calculated the total amount owed by Father to be $52, 956.38, which consisted of $29, 350.00 in unpaid support plus interest owed in the amount of $23, 606.38.

On April 1, 2013, Mother filed a petition for contempt, to modify the marital dissolution agreement[1] and child support, and to reimburse for extraordinary expenses. Thereafter, Father filed a counter-petition alleging that he made child support payments directly to the parties' son in the amount of $725 per month from August 2001 through December 2009. Mother testified that she never received any of these payments. Father alleged that direct payments to the parties' son were for his housing, food, clothing, transportation, healthcare, and education.

The trial took place on December 13, 2013, and a final order was entered on January 29, 2014. Both parties filed motions to alter or amend the trial court's final order. A hearing was held on March 5, 2014, to address the motions to amend and clarify the prior order of the court. An amended final order (which was actually an amended parenting plan) was entered on April 17, 2014. In its order, the trial court gave Father a $250 monthly credit for necessaries during the 76 month period when the parties' son lived primarily with Father. This finding resulted in a child support arrearage of $100 per month accruing interest at 12% annually from the due date. Based on this finding, the trial court awarded Mother child support arrears in the amount of $23, 983.31 including medical expenses of $985.03. The trial court ordered Father to pay the arrears at a rate of $468.88 per month.

Father was also ordered to pay 50% of the private school tuition, plus 50% of any fees and meal ticket, if required. Additionally, the trial court ordered the parties to share equally in any additional school related-expenses. However, the trial court did not specifically indicate what it meant by the term "school related expenses." The trial court did expressly find that neither parent was "financially able to incur the expense [of private school education] alone, but relied upon the support and representations of the other parent." Mother was awarded a judgment in the amount of $17, 204.25 for past tuition. This award was based in contract due to the fact that Father signed the school contracts agreeing to be jointly and severally liable with Mother for tuition. The trial court found that this judgment shall not be considered as child support for collection purposes. The trial court granted Father's request for an injunction prohibiting child support to be paid through the Tennessee Child Support Receipting Unit by wage assignment. With regard to the parties' ability to work together, the trial court stated:

The maxim that Equity looks on that as done which ought to be done applies. It appears to this court that the parents preferred to work out what they saw as an equitable relationship for the 76 month period ending in January 2010 at which time the son returned to live with his mother. The court approves of the couple's ability to work out an equitable arrangement for the 76 months. . . .

The contempt petitions of both parties were denied, and each party was ordered to pay their own attorney fees. Court costs were equally divided between the parties.

II. Issues

Mother presents the following issues for review in this appeal:

1. Did the Trial Court err in granting Father a credit against child support arrears for providing necessaries to one of the minor children for a period of 76 months?

2. Did the Trial Court err in ordering father to pay an upward deviation for private school tuition, and then allowing Father to pay the school directly rather than pay his portion to Mother?

3. Did the trial court err in finding the retroactive tuition awarded for the period of time after the filing of Mother's petition to be contractual rather than child support?

4. Did the trial court err in refusing Mother's request that child support be paid through the Tennessee Child Support Receipting Unit via wage assignment, and granting a permanent injunction against mother seeking child support arrears ...

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