Costaras v. Costaras

  • If a foreign judgment includes support and non-support components, is it subject to the four-year statute of limitations for domesticating foreign judgments in A.R.S. § 12-544(3)?

Facts and Procedural History

Bill and Pana were divorced in Ohio in 1999. In 2016, another Ohio court entered judgment against Bill for $174,467.84–30% for spousal support arrearages and the remaining 70% for a “civil judgment” for attorney’s fees and costs.

Pana domesticated the judgment in Arizona about five years later. Bill moved to set aside the judgment, arguing that it was time-barred by A.R.S. § 12-544(3), which requires foreign judgments to be domesticated within four years after they become enforceable. Foreign judgments for support, however, are exempt from this statute of limitations.

The trial court held that the judgment could not be “dissected,” and therefore the entire judgment was exempt from the statute of limitations because the judgment included a support component. Bill appealed.

Ruling

Judgments that include support and non-support components can be bifurcated. The four-year statute of limitations in A.R.S. § 12-544(3) only applies to the non-support components of the foreign judgment, and the support components remain exempt.

If you’re not familiar with § 12-544, here’s what it says about domesticating foreign judgments:

There shall be commenced and prosecuted within four years after the cause of action accrues, and not afterward, the following actions: […] Upon a judgment or decree of a court rendered without the state, or upon an instrument in writing executed without the state. This paragraph does not apply to a judgment for support, as defined in section 25-500, and to associated costs and attorney fees.

Costaras v. Costaras, 1 CA-CV 21-0401, 2022 WL 1467900 (App. May 10, 2022).

Ali v. Ali

  • Do you need to register an out-of-state child support under UIFSA if neither party is required to pay support?

Facts and Procedural History

The parties were married with one child in California. The parties filed for divorce in California, and Mother and the child moved to Arizona while the divorce was pending. The parties agreed that Mother would have sole legal and physical custody based on a history of domestic violence. The California court ordered that California would relinquish UCCJEA jurisdiction to Arizona upon the entry of the divorce decree. Father then registered the California orders in Arizona pursuant to the UCCJEA.

Two years later, Father filed for modification of custody and requested that the Arizona court enter a child support order. Father stated on the record that California never entered a child support order. But after the order was entered, Father disputed Arizona’s jurisdiction to order child support.

Father cited Glover v. Glover, where the court of appeals held that a child support order must be registered to confer subject matter jurisdiction on Arizona courts under UISFA. 231 Ariz. 1 (App. 2012). The trial court denied Father’s motion to amend, and Father appealed.

Ruling

  • A zero-dollar child support award from another state is a valid order that, under Glover, must be registered in Arizona before it can be modified.
  • Glover doesn’t apply here because Father never introduced evidence of another child support order. Because there was nothing in the record to suggest there was an existing order, the trial court had the authority to enter an order.
  • Father may be able to motion for relief from judgment if he can produce the existing order (because a contest to subject matter jurisdiction is never waived).

Ali v. Ali, 1 CA-CV 21-0434 FC (App. Apr. 26, 2022).

Albert L. v. DCS

  • Can the court disestablish paternity solely based on negative DNA results, in the absence of a competing claim for paternity?

Facts and Procedural History

Albert L. was dismissed from a dependency proceeding involving his daughter after her DNA results came back negative. Albert had raised his daughter as his own from birth, and he and the mother had signed an acknowledgment of paternity in 2014. The acknowledgment of paternity was filed with the Department of Health Services; however, it didn’t include Albert’s Social Security number.

In 2019, Albert and the child’s mother were arrested and DCS filed a dependency petition. The guardian ad litem in the case requested that Albert submit to a paternity test, which the court eventually ordered.

After a hearing, the trial court ruled that the acknowledgment of paternity did not have the force and effect of a judgment because Albert failed to include his Social Security number on the form. Therefore, it only created a presumption of paternity. The court sided with DCS and found that the negative DNA test results rebutted the presumption created by the acknowledgment of paternity, and dismissed Albert from the dependency proceeding.

Ruling

  • The juvenile court had the authority to decide paternity issues, even though paternity is governed by Title 25.
  • The court doesn’t reach the issue of whether the acknowledgment became a judgment despite the missing Social Security number.
  • DCS never established a competing presumption. A.R.S. § 25-814(A)(2) (providing that a man is presumed to be the father of a child if “genetic testing affirms at least a ninety-five per cent probability of paternity”).
  • The court cannot disestablish paternity solely on the basis of negative DNA test results, in the absence of a competing paternity claim.
  • Footnote: If we adopted DCS’s interpretation, a mother who knows that her husband or ex-husband is not the child’s biological father could use Title 25 and DNA testing to disestablish long-standing paternity, without any showing of parental unfitness or regard for the child’s best interests. We presume the legislature did not intend such a result. See Patches v. Indus. Comm’n, 220 Ariz. 179, 182, ¶ 10 (App. 2009) (encouraging courts to construe statutes to avoid “absurd or unconstitutional results”).

Albert L. v. Dep’t of Child Safety, 1 CA-JV 21-0126, 2022 WL 1146405 (App. Apr. 19, 2022).

Prescott v. Prescott (mem.)

  • When is the trial court required to conduct a fairness hearing when one party challenges the enforceability of a settlement agreement?

Facts and Procedural History

The parties signed a settlement agreement in mediation dividing their community assets, including Husband’s business. The agreement did not assign a value to any of the assets, other than the estimate value of a commercial property. Wife waived her right to receive spousal maintenance in the agreement.

After Husband lodged the agreement, Wife filed a motion asking the trial court to determine the enforceability of the agreement, arguing that the court had an independent obligation to determine if the agreement was fair. The court denied Wife’s request for hearing, finding that the agreement complied with Rule 69 and that Wife failed to show any defect in the agreement.

Ruling

Courts are not required to conduct a fairness hearing if it is possible to determine from the agreement itself or from the record that the agreement is not unfair to either party. Hutki v. Hutki, 244 Ariz. 39 (App. 2018). However, the court must hold a hearing when there are “plainly disputed facts on the question of the fairness of the agreement, and the court was presented [with] no evidence as to the extent of the community assets.” Sharp v. Sharp, 179 Ariz. 205 (App. 1994).

In this case, the court was required to conduct a fairness hearing because the agreement did not state the value of the business, and the value was not available anywhere else in the record. The record also indicated a significant financial disparity between the parties, which was enough for Wife to be able to challenge the fairness of the spousal maintenance waiver.

The parties’ pleadings challenging the agreement contained “plainly disputed” explanations for the business valuation report and resulting allocation, therefore the court had to weigh positions and determine credibility to reach the conclusion that the agreement was not so unfair as to reject it.

Prescott v. Prescott, 1 CA-CV 20-0393 FC (App. Apr. 7, 2022) (mem.).

Smith v. Smith

  • Is an initial parenting time order subject to A.R.S. § 25-411(J), which requires the court to make an endangerment finding before restricting parenting time?
  • Is the court required to provide a specific written explanation when it orders less than equal parenting time?

Facts and Procedural History

Mother absconded to Idaho with the parties’ two-year-old child, without notice to Father. The court required Mother to return to Arizona and entered temporary orders for equal parenting time. As the parties approached trial, Father requested a mental health evaluation of Mother. The evaluator determined that Mother had mental health issues, and may not be able to fulfill basic parenting duties such as filling out medical forms. This was especially concerning in this case because the child had a rare genetic disorder that required frequent doctor visits.

Following the final hearing, the court ordered all of Mother’s parenting time to be supervised. Mother appealed, arguing that Arizona has a legal presumption for equal parenting time, and that the court did not make specific findings justifying an award of less than equal time.

Ruling

There is no legal presumption for equal parenting time in Arizona, despite prior opinions that might have implied something different. Although it is the public policy of Arizona for both parents to participate in legal decision-making and have “substantial, frequent, meaningful and continuing contact” with their children, there is no presumption for equal parenting time that a parent must overcome. Equal parenting time is a “starting point” for the court’s best-interests analysis, and evidence leads the court to the appropriate parenting time schedule.

The trial court does not need to make specific findings explaining its decision for less than equal parenting time, other than the required best-interests findings under A.R.S. § 25-403. Because there is no legal presumption for equal time, there is no requirement for the court to specifically explain why it awarded one parent less time. (Although in most cases, it will probably be clear from the findings anyway.)

When entering an initial parenting time order, the court does not need to make an endangerment finding to restrict a parent’s parenting time (e.g., supervised parenting time). A.R.S. § 25-411(J) applies to subsequent modifications of parenting time, but doesn’t apply to an initial order–even if the court ordered more liberal time on a temporary basis. The court can order supervised parenting time when establishing permanent parenting-time orders for the first time, and does not need to make any specific endangerment findings to support its order. In contrast, subsequent orders modified after the initial decree would require such a finding.

The court has broad discretion to determine parenting time, and the overarching factor in the court’s holistic analysis is the child’s best interests–unrestrained by any legal presumption that might sway the court one way or the other. Equal parenting time may be a “starting point” assuming both parents are fit, but the evidence may justify an award of less than equal time even if the child is not “endangered” under A.R.S. § 25-411(J).

Smith v. Smith, 508 P.3d 793 (App. 2022).