Missouri Divorce & Family Law Blog

Missouri Divorce & Family Law Blog

for Missourians struggling with divorce and family law matters

Guardianship of children approved upon showing of unfitness and inability to parent

Posted in Adoption and Guardianship, Child Abuse, Custody and Visitation, Family Law

Recent Case from the Court of Appeals:   Letters of Guardianship Affirmed

Mother appeals from the trial court’s judgment, which appointed Petitioners as guardians over two minor children. The trial court’s judgment found the children’s parents (Mother and three separate fathers) unwilling, unable, or unfit to fulfill their duties as guardians under Section 475.030.4(2). On appeal, Mother contends that no substantial evidence supported a conclusion that she was unfit.

JUDGMENT AFFIRMED.

Substantial evidence in the record, including addiction, cohabitation with an addict, feeding children food to which they were allergic, and lack of age appropriate car seats, supported the trial court’s finding that Mother was unfit to assume the duties of guardianship.

A challenge to each finding singly does not constitute a challenge to the record as a whole. Nothing bars the circuit court from both appointing a guardian for appellant’s children, based on appellant’s unfitness and inability to parent, and allowing visitation with children by appellant to preserve the parent/child relationship.

Missouri Court of Appeals

Eastern District – ED104772

New Missouri Child Support Guidelines in Effect as of July 1, 2017

Posted in Child Support, Divorce, Financial Issues

Effective July 1, 2017, Missouri’s New Form 14 and new Child Support Guidelines took effect.  Notable changes to the previous law include:

  • Changes to the presumed amounts in the chart, especially at the lower and higher income levels
  • Changed schedule for calculating the overnight credit
  • New directions and comments for use, and new instructions for calculating support when a third party has been awarded custody
  • New method for calculating the line 5 basic support amount including a low income test
  • New Form 14

All child support orders entered after July 1, 2017 must comply with the new law, forms, and guidelines.

Modification of Another State’s Custody Order Depends on The Other State Releasing Jurisdiction

Posted in Child Custody and Visitation, Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Family Law, Modifications

Recent Case from the Court of Appeals:  States have continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over their custody judgments until released by the rendering state.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act conditions authority of any State to modify another State’s custody order on whether the residences of parties or child remain in the other State, as states generally retain exclusive jurisdiction over their judgments unless the parties and the child reside elsewhere.  The state rendering the judgment must make that determination. Because there is no determination in this record by the California court either finding that it no longer has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over its custody orders or declining to exercise that jurisdiction because Missouri is more convenient, the Missouri court did not have authority to modify those custody orders under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District – ED105083

Child support continued for child over age 18 with mental disability

Posted in Assets and Debts, Child Support, Child Support and Alimony, Financial Issues

Recent Case from the Missouri Court of Appeals:

Mother appeals from a judgment modifying her child support obligation to continue support for a child beyond the age of eighteen. Mother argues that it was against the weight of the evidence to find the child mentally incapacitated from supporting himself, and that no substantial evidence supported finding that the child was insolvent.

Judgment Affirmed.

Missouri law states that child support terminates at age 18 for a child who is not enrolled in post-secondary education or 21 for a child who is. Statutes also allow an extension of that obligation for a child who cannot support themselves due to mental disability and financial insolvency. It was not against the weight of the evidence for the trial court to find the child mentally incapacitated from supporting himself.  Mental disability is not a matter of lay opinion, but appellant’s child had undisputed diagnoses of mental disorders, and lay opinion—Father’s first-hand observations as to the extent that the disorders hindered child’s self-support was sufficient evidence for circuit court to extend appellant’s obligation.  Further the child’s income is outpaced by his expenses, which consist of spending drawn from his disability benefit and the expenses incurred by Father.  The child would be unable to meet his financial needs without Father’s help, so the circuit court did not err in extending the child support obligation.

KK vs. JK

Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District – WD79931

Grandparent Visitation must be done as a motion to modify if a divorce decree exists; visitation denied due to best interests of the child

Posted in Custody and Visitation, Modifications

Recent Case from the Missouri Court of Appeals:

Father appeals from a judgment denying his motion to modify child support. Grandparents appeal from the same judgment which also denied their petition seeking grandparent visitation.

The Grandmother did not seek visitation in a manner authorized by statute because the visitation petition was an independent petition seeking visitation rights rather than a motion to modify the dissolution decree.

Missouri law states that the court shall determine if the visitation by the grandparent would be in the child’s best interest or if it would endanger the child’s physical health or impair the child’s emotional development. Visitation may only be ordered when the court finds such visitation to be in the best interests of the child.

Visitation with Grandmother was found not to be in the child’s best interests because Father had been convicted of a crime involving the children and the grandmother had chosen her son over the grandchildren. The trial court’s characterization of Father’s criminal status as a felony vs a misdemeanor was immaterial. Because Grandparents sought collective visitation and reside together, the basis for denying Grandmother’s petition apply equally to Grandfather. In any event, Grandfather failed to sustain his burden that visitation would be in the child’s best interest and would not endanger the child’s physical health or emotional development.

 

Missouri Court of Appeals

Western District

WD79567

Child support paid by third party does not equal child neglect; Proposed Judgments prepared by counsel should not be signed verbatim.

Posted in Adoption, Adoption and Guardianship, Legal Proceedings, Parenting and Adoption, Trials

The Constitution protects the fundamental right of a parent to custody of their child even though child’s best interests are the goal of statutes governing adoption.  An action for adoption without parental consent terminates, without a separate action for termination of, parental rights.  Adoption statutes afford relief on clear, cogent, and convincing evidence of abandonment or neglect.  Those statutes make relevant the events of the preceding six months, during which parent maintained regular and substantial contact with child, rendering evidence of parent’s conduct during a more distant time less than clear, cogent, and convincing evidence of abandonment.  Satisfaction of child support obligation, from third party instead of directly from parent, does not clearly, cogently, and convincingly show willful neglect.

For the circuit court to sign a proposed judgment exactly as prepared by a party may not be erroneous, per se, but our appellate courts have repeatedly chastised our trial courts for adopting, verbatim, proposed judgments because there may be a problem with the appearance, and even the most conscientious advocate cannot reasonably be expected to prepare a document which would reflect precisely the trial court’s view of the evidence.

S.S.S., L.W.V. & M.T.S.-V., Respondents, v. C.V.S., Appellant.

Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District – ED104249

Originally posted by the Missouri Bar

Modification of spousal support order requires substantial and continuing change in circumstances

Posted in Alimony / Maintenance, Assets and Debts, Divorce, Financial Issues, Property-Debt Division

Recent Case:  From the Missouri Court of Appeals, Modification of Spousal Support vs. Property Division

Appellant Husband appeals the trial court’s judgment reducing, but not terminating, his maintenance obligation, retroactive to February 2015, and awarding Wife attorney’s fees.

Missouri statutes allow modification of spousal maintenance when circumstances change, the change is substantial and continuing, and the change makes the award unreasonable.  The trial court properly reduced Appellant’s maintenance obligation based on Respondent’s income and recent eligibility to receive a portion of Appellant’s social security benefits. However, the trial court properly declined to consider Respondent’s eligibility to receive pension benefits awarded in the original dissolution action because those benefits do not constitute a change of circumstances sufficient to support a motion to modify. Furthermore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it set the date of retroactive application for the modified maintenance obligation and awarded attorney’s fees to Respondent.

Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District – ED103930

New Missouri Child Support Guidelines and Amounts to take effect July 1, 2017

Posted in Child Support, Child Support and Alimony, Divorce, Family Law, Financial Issues

From the Supreme Court of Missouri:

“It is ordered that effective July 1, 2017, Civil Procedure Form No. 14, entitled “Child Support Amount Calculation Worksheet”, along with the directions, comments for use, and examples for completion thereto, by and the same are hereby repealed and a new Civil Procedure Form No. 14 entitled “Child Support Amount Calculation Worksheet” along with directions, comments for use, and examples for completion thereto, are adopted in lieu thereof…”

 

Failure to include holiday or vacation schedule in parenting plan is trial court error; Voluntary reduction in Income does not support reduction in child support

Posted in Assets and Debts, Child Support, Child Support and Alimony, Divorce, Family Law, Financial Issues, Modifications

Recent Case from the Missouri Court of Appeals:  Parenting plans must contain holiday and vacation schedules; voluntary reduction in income does not support child support reduction

Mother appeals the trial court’s judgment of modification for a failure to properly apply the law and abusing its discretion in its judgment of modification. Mother contends, in relevant part, that: (1) the trial court erred in its modification because the parenting plan failed to include any holiday or vacation schedule for the minor children as required by statute; (2) the modification failed to properly calculate child support; and (3) the judgment failed to take into account the respondent’s voluntary reduction in income;

Holding:  Affirmed in part, Remanded in part

The trial court judgment that considered the particular needs of each child in its modification supported a parenting plan that awarded separate parenting time for each child. Missouri law adjusts the child support amount for overnight visits numbering 36 per year or more, so the trial court did not err in denying an adjustment based on 24 overnight visits per year.  In addition, voluntary reduced income caused by the dissipation of one’s own talents, in this case failure to comply with federal employee wage requirements resulting in substantial tax liability and subsequent bankruptcy filing, does not support a reduction in child support.

Missouri law requires the parenting plan to include a schedule of physical custody during enumerated holidays and vacations and omission of that schedule requires a remand back to the trial Court.

WS vs. ME

Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District

WD79347

Restrictions on visitation, and subsequent removal of them, both require a ruling on child’s best interest

Posted in Child Custody and Visitation, Child Support, Child Support and Alimony, Custody and Visitation, Family Law, Financial Issues, Modifications

Recent Case:  When a custody order contains restricted visitation, those restrictions must not be lifted, or even phased out, until a subsequent hearing to determine whether removal of the restrictions is in the child’s best interest.

Evidence that Father has not sought employment within his expertise supported an imputation of income for determining child support.  The child’s best interests determine custody, including visitation.  Modification of custody requires proof that circumstances have substantially changed since, or at least facts unknown to circuit court when, circuit court last ruled on custody.  The former included evidence of deteriorating communication.  The latter is more likely when the parties settle as to custody and included evidence of drug manufacturing. Those facts supported modification of custody, even though the State dismissed related criminal charges, and notwithstanding appellant’s testimony and arguments to the contrary.  Such evidence also supported restrictions on visitation.  Reduction in such restrictions scheduled in parenting plan, without any ruling that such reductions were in the child’s best interest when they occurred, constituted error and mother’s discretion to demand more drug tests was no substitute for the statutory standard.  The case was remanded to the trial court to re-draft parenting plan, with discretion to hear fresh evidence if the circuit court chooses.

 

BR and OR v. LN

Missouri Court of Appeals-Western District

WD 79278