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State ex rel. Lytle v. Webb

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

May 21, 2018


          Session April 11, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 06D-802 Philip E. Smith, Judge

         This appeal arose from a child support proceeding wherein the father sought modification of his child support obligation. After concluding that an incorrect arrearage amount had been established in a prior order, the trial court determined that the correct arrearage amount, including statutory interest, was $48, 574.88. The trial court relied on an affidavit executed by the mother, which reflected the father's child support payments. The mother's affidavit, however, is not contained within the record on appeal. Furthermore, the trial court's order contained no findings of fact demonstrating how the trial court calculated the arrearage or the statutory interest. Because the trial court failed to make adequate findings of fact, we vacate the trial court's judgment and remand for entry of sufficient findings of fact regarding the method of calculation of the arrearage and interest.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Vacated; Case Remanded

          Mike J. Urquhart, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Seneca Webb.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and Jordan K. Crews, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee ex rel. Nicole Lytle.

          Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy D. Bennett and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.



         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The child, Arianna ("the Child"), was born in January 2003 to Nicole Lytle ("Mother") and Seneca Webb ("Father"). The record reflects that Father signed a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity at the time of the Child's birth. The State of Tennessee ("the State"), acting on behalf of Mother, filed a petition to set child support. On March 7, 2006, the Davidson County Circuit Court ("the trial court") entered an agreed order, signed by both Father and Mother, wherein the parties agreed that Father owed a total child support arrearage of $7, 200.00 and that he should pay $522.00 per month in current child support and $40.00 per month toward the arrearage. The child support worksheet was attached to the agreed order and reflected Father's child support obligation of $522.00 per month.

         On January 29, 2016, Father filed a petition to modify his child support obligation, alleging that each party's respective income had changed and requesting a decrease in his current child support obligation. According to a subsequent March 29, 2016 order, a hearing had occurred on March 14, 2016, during which the trial court modified Father's current child support obligation to $212.00 per month. The statement of evidence prepared by the trial court regarding the March 14, 2016 hearing reflects that the parties stipulated to their respective current incomes. According to the statement of the evidence, the parties were unable to reach an agreement concerning Father's arrearage payment. During the hearing, the State averred that Father's arrearage balance at that time was $46, 526.65. The State's calculation of the arrearage balance did not include the statutory interest to be applied to the unpaid amount. In its order, the trial court adopted the State's calculation of the arrearage balance, calculated 12% interest on that balance, and modified Father's arrearage payment to $465.26 per month, which reflected one-twelfth of the annual interest amount.

         On March 17, 2016, the State filed a motion to alter or amend the trial court's order, acknowledging that the State had previously presented an incorrect arrearage balance during the March 2016 hearing and averring that the correct arrearage balance was $28, 361.31. According to the State, the arrearage balance of $46, 526.65 was incorrect because the "amount [did] not give [Father] credit for the time that the case was closed." The State accordingly requested that the trial court modify its order to include the correct arrearage balance and "amend the arrears payment to $283.61 per month, which would cover the interest of the current arrears balance." The trial court set a hearing regarding the State's motion to alter or amend for June 3, 2016.

          Father did not appear for the hearing on June 3, 2016. The statement of the evidence contained in the record again was prepared by the trial court, see Tenn. R. App. P. 24(e), and states in relevant part:

1. The State submitted that it filed a petition for modification of child support which was heard on March 14, 2016.
2. The petition and resulting order, entered March 29, 2016, erroneously included a period of time in which the parties had closed their case, and the Order was never terminated through the Court.
3. [Mother] provided to the State an Affidavit of Payments wherein [Mother] gave credit to [Father] for certain periods of time.
4. The State requested that it be permitted to use the Affidavit of Payments to set correctly the proper arrears amount.
5. [Mother] testified that she thought the time period in which the case was closed already included the credit and that the credit had accordingly been given.
6. The Court specifically inquired as to whether [Mother] was in agreement with the State's request to use her Affidavit of Payments to determine correctly the arrears as the Court would only grant the State's request if [Mother] was in agreement.
7. [Mother] testified that she was in fact in agreement with using her Affidavit of Payments to set a new arrears amount.

         The trial court subsequently entered an order on April 28, 2017, resulting from the June 3, 2016 hearing. According to the order, "[a]fter hearing testimony of [Mother], statements of counsel for the State of Tennessee and a review of the record as a whole, " the trial court granted the State's motion to alter or amend and amended its order to "reflect the correct arrearage balance as determined using [Mother's] Direct Payment Affidavit presented in Court." As previously noted, the "Direct Payment Affidavit" prepared by Mother is not contained in the record on appeal. In reliance upon the affidavit, the trial court determined that the correct arrearage balance as of February 29, 2016, was $28, 101.43. The trial court further found that the arrearage balance, including the ...

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