Reimbursement for Overpaid Child Support in Arizona
The Arizona Court of Appeals in the unpublished opinion in the Tupper v. Tupper case addressed whether child support reimbursements could be ordered when a parent receive social security Supplemental Security Income (i.e., “SSI”) benefits for the minor child. Gary A. Tupper (Father) and Lauri A. Tupper (Mother) were divorced in 1998. The parties had three children. The 1998 decree included an order for Father to pay Mother child support with a later modification of the order occurring in 2002.
Father paid child support as ordered until May 2013 when the youngest child graduated from high school. Mother applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on the youngest child’s behalf in November 2012. In October 2013, the SSI benefits were awarded retroactive to December 2012. Father petitioned the court to terminate his child support obligation in March 2014 and his termination request was granted in May 2014. Father further requested the Mother pay him a reimbursement for child support paid from November 2012 through May 2013. The Court denied his request because the payments predated the termination order. Father appealed.
Interpreting Statutory Law for Legislature Intent
The Arizona Court of Appeals noted a trial court’s decision whether to order reimbursement of an overpayment of child support is within its discretion and that this discretion is “abused” when the Court commits an error of law when reaching a decision. The primary goal when interpreting the statutory law is to give effect to the intent of the legislature and the best evidence of the legislature’s intent is the statutory language. When the text can be reasonably interpreted to indicate more than one clear meaning, the Court turns to the background, the purpose, the spirit of the law, and the effect of the statute.
The father argued A.R.S. Section 25-527 entitled him to a reimbursement of child support paid from November 2012 through May 2013 even though he not seek a termination of his child support until 2014. The Arizona Court of Appeals disagreed with his argument. The Appellate Court interpreted the statute to apply to reimbursement of child support payments after a motion to terminate child support has been filed. Here, the father made his last child support payment months before it would have been reduced or terminated. The statute, therefore, did not entitle him to reimbursement.
The father also argued the family court judge erred in ruling that it did not have the authority or jurisdiction to order reimbursement of child support payments retroactively before the date he filed to terminate child support. In the August 2014 order, the family court judge stated it was “without jurisdiction” to order the requested retroactive reimbursement to Father. In response to this argument, the Arizona Court of Appeals pointed to the trial judge’s October 2014 order that clarified, “…when the Court states that it is without jurisdiction, the court means to say that there is no statutory authority” for the specific relief requested by the Father according to current Arizona law. The Court of Appeals of Arizona did not address the judge’s comments because it found them to be moot for purposes of this appeal.