Phillip B. v. DCS

  • When an accused party challenges a substantiated abuse or neglect finding by DCS, what legal requirements must be met before the allegation is entered into the Central Registry?

Facts and Procedural History

Phillip B. worked in a group home with children, and had worked with children in various capacities for almost 30 years. In June 2018, a minor resident of the group home became agitated, and Phillip put his hand on the child’s shoulder to calm him down, ripping his T-shirt. There was a dispute about what happened next—the child said he couldn’t breathe, but Phillip and other adult witnesses testified that Phillip never put pressure on the child’s neck.

Someone reported the incident to DCS and a caseworker investigated the allegation. Following the investigation, the caseworker found probable cause that Phillip abused the child. The DCS Protective Services Review Team (PSRT) notified Phillip that it intended to enter the substantiated abuse allegation in the Central Registry. Although not a criminal charge, an entry on the Central Registry may disqualify someone from obtaining certain licenses or certifications, or prevent the accused from working with children.

Phillip first requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ took testimony from witnesses and found that no probable cause existed to substantiate the allegation of abuse. The ALJ’s decision was then reviewed by the DCS Director, who issued a Decision in which he partially accepted, partially rejected, and modified the ALJ’s findings and conclusions. Based on the modified Decision, the DCS Director determined that the allegation was substantiated and should be entered on the Central Registry.

Phillip filed a judicial review action in superior court. The superior court found substantial evidence to support the Director’s Decision and affirmed. Phillip then appealed the superior court’s ruling.

Ruling

Before being entered on the Central Registry, an allegation of abuse or neglect must follow the substantiation process set forth in the Arizona Administrative Code:

  1. The DCS caseworker completes an investigation and finds probable cause for abuse or neglect.
  2. The PSRT notifies the accused that DCS intends to substantiate the finding and informs the accused of their right to a probable cause hearing.
  3. If the accused timely requests a hearing (within 20 days of the PSRT notification), it goes to a hearing before an ALJ.
  4. If the ALJ finds probable cause, the DCS Director reviews the ALJ’s determination and, if appropriate, accepts it.

In this case, the ALJ found no probable cause to substantiate the allegation. Therefore, there was nothing for the Director to accept. The Director may not modify the ALJ’s findings to substantiate an allegation, even if it reaches a different conclusion after reviewing the evidence.

Only if both conditions are met—the ALJ finds probable cause and the Director accepts the ALJ’s finding—is a finding substantiated and entered into the Central Registry.

Phillip B. v. Arizona Dep’t of Child Safety, 1 CA-CV 20-0569, 2022 WL 2128078 (App. June 14, 2022).

Milham v. Milham (mem.)

  • If there is a delay between a participant spouse commencing pension benefits and the entry of a domestic relations order dividing those benefits, does the alternate payee spouse have a claim to the missed payments during the interim period?

Facts and Procedural History

The parties divorced in 1998, and Wife was awarded 32.43% of Husband’s military retirement benefits upon his retirement from active service. The decree did not order Husband to pay the benefits directly to Wife, and the parties did not enter a domestic relations order at the time of divorce.

As Husband was approaching retirement, Wife contacted DFAS, the entity responsible for administering military retirement benefits. DFAS initially denied Wife’s application, instructing her to obtain a clarifying order from the trial court. After months of litigation, Husband eventually agreed to the entry of a stipulated domestic relations order dividing Husband’s military retirement.

During the interim period, Husband received 100% of his retirement benefits. The trial court entered a judgment in Wife’s favor for the payments she should have received during the interim period. Husband appealed that judgment, arguing that nothing in the decree required him to make payments to Wife directly during that period.

Ruling

Unsurprisingly, the court of appeals rejected Husband’s argument and affirmed the judgment to Wife for the interim payments. The payments were Wife’s separate property under the decree, and it was no fault of Wife’s that the payments were delayed. Wife acted promptly to secure her share of the benefits prior to Husband’s retirement. Any other result would have been clearly inequitable under the circumstances.

Milham v. Milham, 1 CA-CV 21-0581 FC, 2022 WL 1801049 (App. June 2, 2022) (mem.).

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).

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.).