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In re Marriage of Teague

Court of Appeals of Oklahoma, Division III

December 6, 2019

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF TEAGUE: SUSAN TEAGUE, Petitioner/Appellee,
v.
LESLEY TEAGUE, Respondent/Appellant.

          Mandate Issued: 01/08/2020

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF ROGERS COUNTY, OKLAHOMA HONORABLE DAVID SMITH, JUDGE

          Bradley A. Grundy, Angela L. Smoot, CONNER & WINTERS, LLP, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Juliana Reimer, Julie Henson, Owasso, Oklahoma, for Petitioner/Appellee,

          W. Allen Vaughn, Tulsa, Okahoma, for Respondent/Appellant.

          BAY MITCHELL, PRESIDING JUDGE

         ¶1 Respondent/Appellant Lesley Teague (Father) appeals from the trial court's order modifying child support for his disabled adult child. We find 43 O.S. 2011 §118I (A)(3), providing that an order modifying child support shall be effective upon the date the motion to modify was filed, applies to an order modifying support for a disabled adult child pursuant to 43 O.S. 2011 §112.1A. The trial court erred as a matter of law by using a different date. That part of the order is reversed and remanded with instructions to make the order effective upon the date Father filed his motion and adjust the amount of the credit to Father. We find the amount of support ordered is not clearly against the weight of the evidence so as to constitute an abuse of discretion. That part of the order is affirmed.

         ¶2 Father and Petitioner/Appellee Susan Teague (Mother) were married December 31, 1989. Mother filed a petition for dissolution of marriage November 18, 2011. The parties had two children during the marriage, V.C.T. and C.A.T. At the time of the divorce, V.C.T. was a minor child and C.A.T., born September 6, 1990, was a disabled adult child. The trial court entered a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage March 28, 2013. The Decree ordered Father to pay adult child support for C.A.T., who lived with Mother. On September 23, 2015, the trial court modified child support for C.A.T. from $364.36 per month to $813.70 per month and ordered Father to pay the arrearage in the amount of $16, 314.71 plus interest. That order was not appealed.

         ¶3 On December 21, 2015, Father filed a Combined Motion to Terminate Child Support and Motion for Developmental Assessment of the Parties' Adult Child. Father alleged that C.A.T. was capable of being independent and self-supportive. While the motion to terminate support was still pending, Father filed a Motion to Modify Child Support January 19, 2016. Father asserted that since the September 23, 2015 support order, the factors upon which child support was computed had materially and significantly changed. Father alleged that his wages had decreased and Mother's wages had increased. The trial court ordered a psychoeducational evaluation by Dr. Jennifer Benton. Dr. Benton evaluated C.A.T. July 19, 2016. She diagnosed C.A.T. with mild intellectual disability and anxiety disorder, found her IQ was 65, and opined that she will continue to need supervision and support.

         ¶4 On August 22, 2016, Father filed an Amended Motion to Modify Child Support and Request for Extraordinary Relief based on the change in wages. He alleged that he lost his job in June 2015 and earns less at his new job. Father also argues that in addition to the $813.70 per month in child support for C.A.T., he has been ordered to pay past due child support at 10% interest, has been found guilty of indirect contempt, and ordered to pay Mother's attorney fees related to the contempt citation. These liabilities make his total monthly payment to Mother $1, 181.57. Father also asserts that he is paying Mother $403.00 per month pursuant to a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding and he has incurred additional medical expenses from having his gall bladder removed. Father claims that based on his current household budget he cannot make these payments and asks the trial court to reduce the amounts. [1] On September 23, 2016, Father filed a motion to dismiss his Motion to Terminate Child Support, which was filed December 21, 2015. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss September 27, 2016.

         ¶5 The trial on Father's Amended Motion to Modify Child Support was held October 28, 2016, June 30, 2017, August 15, 2017, and September 28, 2017. The trial court found there has been a permanent, material and substantial change of condition in Father's income and reduced his support obligation from $813.70 per month to $387.31 per month. The trial court found this amount was "for the minimum needs directly related to the disabled adult child." The trial court determined the effective date of the modified amount of child support was January 15, 2017 and ordered Father a credit in the amount of $426.39 per month from January 2017 through May 2018. Father appeals. [2]

         ¶6 Father raises two issues on appeal. [3] First, he argues the order modifying child support should have been effective upon the date he filed his Motion to Modify Child Support. Second, he argues Mother failed to prove C.A.T.'s mental or physical disability required 24-hour personal supervision or substantial care.

         ¶7 Father's first proposition of error raises an issue of statutory construction. Statutory construction presents a question of law which we review de novo. See Fanning v. Brown, 2004 OK 7, ¶8, 85 P.3d 841. We have plenary, independent and nondeferential authority to determine whether the trial court erred in its legal rulings. Id.

         ¶8 Father argues 43 O.S. §118I (A)(3) applies to the modification of support for a disabled adult child. Section 118I concerns the modification of support orders for minor children. The statute provides, in pertinent part, that "[a]n order of modification shall be effective upon the date the motion to modify was filed, unless the parties agree to the contrary or the court makes a specific finding of fact that the material change of circumstance did not occur until a later date." 43 O.S. 2011 §118I (A)(3). Father filed his Motion to Modify Child Support January 19, 2016. Without making a specific finding of fact that the material change of circumstances did not occur until a later date, the trial court ordered that child support be modified beginning January 15, 2017. Father argues the trial court erred by not using the filing date -- January 19, 2016 -- as the effective date. Relying on In re Marriage of Morgan, 2019 OK CIV APP 5, 438 P.3d 837, Mother argues an order modifying child support does not relate back to the date of filing when the order is for support of a disabled adult child. [4]

         ¶9 The fundamental purpose of statutory construction is to determine and give effect to the intent of the Legislature. See Humphries v. Lewis, 2003 OK 12, ¶7, 67 P.3d 333. If the language is clear and unambiguous, this Court must apply the plain meaning. Id. However, when the legislative intent cannot be determined from the statutory language due to ambiguity or conflict, rules ...


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