Affidavit of Child Support Arrears From a Child Support Order of Another State
A parent may ask an Arizona court to enforce a child support order from a different state. However, a parent must first register the foreign order in Arizona. A parent registering another state’s child support order in Arizona must serve the registration papers on the other parent.
Once the child support order is registered in Arizona, either parent may file an affidavit regarding unpaid child support. The other parent has arrears twenty days to object to the affidavit regarding child support arrears. If she doesn’t object in time, he or she loses the right to object and an Arizona court may then issue a judgment for the back child support owed.
The Arizona Court of Appeals considered issues that arise in such circumstances in the case of Taylor v. Pandola, CA-CV 15-0191 FC.
Facts and Background Mr. Pandola
Mrs. Taylor and Mr. Pandola were the parents of a child born in Illinois 1999. An Illinois court ordered Mr. Pandola to pay child support in the amount of $3,000 per month. In 2003, the Illinois court ordered Mr. Pandola to pay $6,000 in back child support to Mrs. Taylor and $2,000 a month in future child support payments. A year later, in 2004, the court reduced the amount of monthly support to $1200.
Mrs. Taylor and the child moved to Arizona. In 2005, Mr. Pandola asked an Arizona court to modify the 2004 Illinois court order, reducing the monthly obligation to $106. Mrs. Taylor and Mr. Pandola stipulated that Arizona had jurisdiction. They stipulated to child support arrears of $7,146 and future support of $900 per month. That amount would later be reduced in 2010 to $655 per month.
In 2013, Mr. Pandola again requested a reduction in his support obligation. The Arizona Department of Economic Security (ADES) became involved in the case. All of the parties admitted that Arizona lacked jurisdiction to modify child support until the Illinois order was first properly registered in Arizona. The court dismissed Mr. Pandola’s petition for lack of jurisdiction.
A year later, Mr. Pandola again filed to modify child support with the Arizona court. He sought registration of the Illinois support orders. He also filed a notice claiming he did not owe any back child support. He served those court papers on Mrs. Taylor’s attorney on September 4, 2014.
On August 27, 2014, ADES filed its own back child support calculation, showing $375,790.50 due in back child support. Mr. Pandola claimed ADES used the wrong Illinois order as the basis for its calculation. On October 30, ADES filed an adjusted arrears calculation using the monthly obligation of $1200.
Mrs. Taylor did not object to Mr. Pandola’s notice of registration in a timely manner. On October 1st, she filed a response in support of ADES’ initial arrearage calculation. On November 5, she finally filed an objection to Mr. Pandola’s filing. She asked for a hearing on the validity and enforcement of the Notice.
The superior court found that Mr. Pandola served Mrs. Taylor on September 4, and that she only had until September 24 to file an objection. By failing to timely object, she waived any objection to confirmation of the 2004 Order. The court also held she waived any objection to Mr. Pandola’s statement that he owed nothing in child support arrearages.
Based on that statement, the court found that Mr. Pandola owed zero back child support through August 14, 2014. It awarded Mr. Pandola $700 in attorney fees against Mrs. Taylor.
Mrs. Taylor appealed.
Sufficiency of Mr. Pandola’s Filing and Service
An Arizona court only has jurisdiction to enforce a child support order issued by another state if it is registered in an Arizona court. The procedures for registering the out-of-state support order are set out in the law. A party seeking registration must send copies of the other state’s order to the Arizona court. He or she must include his or her “sworn statement … showing the amount of any arrearage”.
Mrs. Taylor argued on appeal that registration of the 2004 Order should be set aside. She claimed that the filing was legally insufficient because Mr. Pandola didn’t file all Illinois orders entered. However, she did not suggest that any Illinois orders modified the 2004 Order. The court, therefore, rejected her argument.
She next argued that the superior court clerk did not serve her with notice of Mr. Pandola’s filings. But her attorney accepted personal service of the filings. Therefore, the Court of Appeals said it wasn’t relevant whether the court clerk sent Mrs. Taylor copies of the registration documents.
Prior Filings Do Not Constitute Timely Objection
Mrs. Taylor admitted she did not object to the filing within 20 days. She claims that her earlier motions constituted objections. However, the statute says that a party contesting registration must request a hearing within 20 days. The language of the statute is clear; the objection must be to “the validity or enforcement of a registered support order”. Earlier filings could not object to a later-filed notice.
Failure to Object to Notice Does Not Bar Objection to Arrears Amount
The law requires a party registering an out-of-state support order to file a sworn statement of arrearages due under it. Here, Mr. Pandola filed a statement swearing that he didn’t owe any arrears. The lower court ruled that when Mrs. Taylor failed to object to Mr. Pandola’s Notice, she also waived any objection to his arrears statement.
The Court of Appeals disagreed. It said that the lower court misconstrued the statute. It ruled that the deadline for objecting to registration doesn’t impact a party’s right to contest the statement of arrearages. The relevant statute provides:
“If the non-registering party fails to contest the order within twenty days of service, it is confirmed by operation of law.”
Therefore, the 2004 Order was confirmed by operation of law and the Arizona court could enforce it. However, the law doesn’t impose the same consequences on failing to object to the statement of back child support due. Once the foreign order is registered, the Arizona court determines back support due under that order.
Mr. Pandola claimed that another law addresses the child support arrearage issue. That law says that a failure to object “precludes further contest of that order with respect to any matter that could have been asserted”. That includes “alleged arrearages”.
The Court of Appeals construed the language differently. It said that failure to object to registration of an order allows a court to enforce any arrearages mentioned in the order. Mr. Pandola’s argument that failure to object results in “confirmation of . . . the alleged arrearages” imposes a consequence that is not plainly stated.
The Court declined to construe the statute to require such an onerous result. The statute plainly states that a failure to object will result in “confirmation of the order”. It does not plainly state the same result about the separate avowal of arrears. Even if the language is ambiguous, the Court felt its reading was consistent with the spirit and purpose of the law.
The Court found that the superior court was wrong in ruling Mrs. Taylor was barred from contesting the amount of child support arrears owed to her.
Attorney Fee Award
Mrs. Taylor asked the Court to vacate the attorney fees awarded to Mr. Pandola. The Court agreed, since it reversed the superior court’s orders in part.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the orders of the superior court in part and reversed them in part. It remanded the matter to the superior court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.