Trial Court failed to give full faith and credit to Utah judgment . . .
In reversal, Third District holds that trial court erred by modifying final Utah money judgment on arrearages to add interest per California statute where the issue of interest was not litigated in Utah and Utah law re interest differs from California’s law
In re Marriage of Connolly
(February 9, 2018; as modified March 12, 2018)
California Court of Appeal 3 Civil C080256 and C083238, 20 Cal.App.5 th 395, 228 Cal.Rptr.3d 890, 2018 FA 1826, per Duarte, J (Blease, Acting PJ and Hull, J, concurring). El Dorado County: Phimister, J, reversed with directions. For appellant: Linda Conrad, CALS, (916) 432-0229. For respondent: pro per. For County: Deputy Attorney General Jennevee De Guzman, (916) 445-9555. CFLP §§S.14.1, S.13.
Diane and Joseph Connolly were married in 1988 and later had two sons, born in February 1991 and November 1994 respectively. When the couple divorced in August 2004, the trial court ordered Joseph to pay spousal support of $400 per month. Soon after, Diane, Joseph, and the boys all moved to Utah. Joseph, however, returned to California in March 2005.
In November 2005, the trial court ordered Joseph to pay child support of $1,610 a month, retroactive to August 2005, plus $100 a month in arrearages retroactive to October 2005. In 2009, Diane and Joseph stipulated to reducing his child support payment to $1,023 a month, in light of their older son’s having reached age 18, and his spousal support payment to $372 a month. Joseph moved back to Utah in May 2010.
In 2012, Diane transferred enforcement of the child support order from the El Dorado County Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) to the Utah Office of Recovery Services (UORS). UORS then sent a letter to Joseph, advising him that he owed support arrearages of $65,704. In response, Joseph requested a hearing to review the amount of arrearages that UORS thought he owed. In December 2012, UORS issued an order and decision pegging Joseph’s child support arrearages at $30,580 and his spousal support arrearages at $19,911, for a total of $50,491 as of November 30, 2012. The order did not include interest, as Utah law precludes collecting interest on an out-of-state support order whose amount had not been reduced to a lump sum by judicial order or judgment, or the interest on which has not been calculated by the other state and provided to UORS. Diane did not contest the validity of the UORS order.
In July 2013, Joseph went back to California. Meanwhile, Diane had filed an OSC in Utah, seeking a judgment re child and spousal support arrearages of $69,537 as of April 5, 2013. The Utah trial court, however, found that the UORS judgment stood because Diane failed to appeal it, and entered a judgment of $50,491.
In October 2013, Joseph filed a motion to terminate spousal support. After Diane and Joseph litigated other motions filed by the parties, the trial court, acting on Joseph’s termination motion, reduced his spousal support obligation to zero, but declined to modify the Utah judgment regarding the spousal support arrearages. In 2014, the El Dorado DCSS reopened Diane and Joseph’s case, after UORS terminated its enforcement services. In June, the trial court issued an income withholding order against Joseph’s Coast Guard pension; two months later it increased that order to $1,007 a month.
Diane subsequently filed an application to determine spousal support arrearages and asked the trial court to “‘reattach’” interest to the Utah arrearages judgment. In February 2015, Joseph moved to terminate California jurisdiction over his support obligations, arguing that Utah was the most appropriate forum for enforcing the 2013 arrearages judgment. At a hearing in June 2015, the trial court, confronted by multiple motions raising the same issues, asked Diane and Joseph why they were in court, and then addressed only the issues that each identified. Those, the trial court determined, boiled down to (a) continuing the withholding order, (b) adding interest to the Utah judgment, and (c) terminating California jurisdiction. The trial court determined that it could not modify the Utah judgment, but it could add interest to it because it “was not an out-of-state judgment” but rather a “‘clarifi[cation]’” of an existing California judgment. The trial court then modified the withholding order from $1,007 a month to $600 a month, declined to terminate jurisdiction, and concluded that the Utah judgment was subject to California’s statutory interest rate on arrearages. Joseph appealed.
In January 2016, Joseph filed a motion to contest enforcement of the support arrearages on the grounds that the trial court could not modify the Utah judgment to add interest. In response, Diane asked the trial court to dismiss his motion with prejudice, as the issues had already been litigated. The trial court later denied Joseph’s motion with prejudice and in August 2016, denied a stay of enforcement. Joseph appealed from that order too.
Acting on consolidated appeals, in a partially-published opinion, the Third District reversed and remanded with directions.
A lack of control . . .
Joseph contended that the California trial court lacked jurisdiction under UIFSA to make the 2015 orders regarding the withholding order and the adding of interest to Utah’s earlier arrearages judgment. This was so, he maintained, because California lost UIFSA jurisdiction and the Utah trial court gained jurisdiction when the entire family moved from California to Utah. As Joseph saw it, the Utah order re arrearages issued in December 2012 was the controlling order. The justices didn’t agree. They reasoned that under UIFSA, the issuing state has continuing exclusive jurisdiction (CEJ) over spousal support issues as long as the spousal support order continues. As for child support under UIFSA, the issuing state has CEJ as long as either the obligor, the obligee, or the child reside there. The panel acknowledged that the parties and the kids were all living in Utah when that state’s court made the arrearages order. However, the justices concluded, the arrearages judgment was not a child support order for purposes of UIFSA. The judgment “simply calculate[d] the arrearages for both spousal and child support as of November 2012.” It neither changed the amount of support that Joseph owed nor modified the California support order. The justices, therefore, found that the Utah judgment was an order from a determination of arrearages, an action that is recognized and authorized by UIFSA. As such, the panel concluded, it could not be the controlling order re child support or spousal support. California had CEJ to issue the 2015 orders because it had child support jurisdiction, since Joseph was a California resident and Diane had consented to jurisdiction. And, the panel reiterated, as the issuing state, California never lost jurisdiction over spousal support.
Very interesting, but wrong . . .
Joseph next contended that the trial court erred by adding interest to the Utah arrearages judgment because it violated the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution by doing so. The panel quickly disposed of DCSS’s assertion that full faith and credit did not apply because Joseph’s argument was based on the faulty assumption that the Utah arrearages judgment was the controlling order. Full faith and credit, the justices declared, applies to any final judgment, not just to the controlling order; and the Utah judgment was a final judgment that was entitled to full faith and credit. They reasoned that under Utah law, the trial court may assess interest on arrearages only when the arrearages have been reduced to a lump sum or the initiating state had calculated it. Thus, the Utah trial court could have assessed arrearages if UORS had provided the amount to it. However, the panel continued, the issue of interest was not litigated at the time, and the Utah judgment was res judicata on that issue. By adding interest to the Utah judgment, the justices concluded, the trial court impermissibly failed to give the judgment full faith and credit. Accordingly, the panel reversed the part of the trial court’s 2015 order that imposed California interest on the Utah judgment and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Non-pub . . .
In the unpublished part of the opinion, the justices find no error in the trial court’s failure to issue a statement of decision regarding its 2016 order.
As this case shows us, figuring out which state has UIFSA jurisdiction can be a tricky business sometimes. This case gives some guidance. Note that the justices’ finding that the Utah arrearages judgment is not a child support order means that they are not dealing with a non-issuing state’s right to modify a child support judgment under UIFSA, nor do they deal with whether California lost CEJ. Instead, the panel’s analysis focuses on the effect of full faith and credit and res judicata on the issuing state’s jurisdiction to modify the Utah judgment. Keep this case in mind the next time that a UIFSA issue comes up in one of your cases.