Time Limitations for Collecting Child Support Arrearages in Arizona
A parent must be given notice when the other parent registers child support orders from another state in Arizona. Is the other parent bound by the amount of child support arrearages listed in that notice if she fails to object? In AZDES/Taylor v. Pandola; 1CA-CV 15-0191 FC, the Arizona Court of Appeals discussed this issue.
Facts of the Case
Mrs. Taylor and Mr. Pandola had a child in 1999. They were living in Illinois. Mr. Pandola agreed to pay $3,000 per month in support, and a court entered that order.
Mrs. Taylor moved with the child to Arizona. The Illinois court retained jurisdiction over child support. It entered several additional orders in 2003 and 2004 reducing the amount of the child support order going forward.
In 2005, Mr. Pandola asked the Arizona court to modify the last of the Illinois orders and reduce support payment to $106. The parents stipulated that Mr. Pandola would pay arrearages of $7,146 and child support of $900 per month starting April 1, 2006.
In 2010, the Arizona court reduced the monthly amount to $655. The Arizona Department of Economic Security (ADES) became involved. In 2013, the Arizona court ruled that it had no jurisdiction until the operative Illinois order was registered in Arizona.
On August 14, 2014, Mr. Pandola registered five support orders from Illinois with the Arizona court. He also filed a “Notice of Filing Respondent’s Sworn Statement Re: Child Support Arrears.” In this, Mr. Pandola swore that he did not owe any child support arrears in the matter. He gave copied Mrs. Taylor’s attorney with the documents on September 4, 2014.
On August 27, 2014, ADES filed its own arrears calculation, showing Mr. Pandola owed $375,790.50 in back child support. This was later modified. Mrs. Taylor filed in support of ADES but did not object to Mr. Pandola’s notice until November 5. The superior court found that Mrs. Taylor was served with the notice on September 4 and had until September 24 to object. Since she didn’t, the court found she waived objection to the May 2004 Order. It also ruled that she waived her objection to the avowal that Mr. Pandola owed no arrearages. It awarded Mr. Pandola $7000 in attorney fees. Mrs. Taylor appealed.
Service of the Notice of Registration
Mrs. Taylor argues that Mr. Pandola’s filing was legally insufficient and was not properly served. She claims that he did not file all of the Illinois child support orders. She also alleges that the clerk of court should have forwarded the notice to her.
The Court of Appeals noted that Mrs. Taylor had not identified any orders other than the ones filed by Mr. Pandola. It also found that Mr. Pandola had properly served her by serving her attorney.
Timeliness of Objection to Registration
Mrs. Taylor admits that she did not object to the notice within 20 days of service, but she claims that the “Motion to Enforce Court Order” and request for relief filed before the notice constituted objections.
The Court of Appeals said that the statute required the objection be directed to the validity or enforcement of the particular documents filed. Filings that happened before the Notice could not operate as a preemptive challenge to the later-filed Notice.
Calculation of Arrears
Last, Mrs. Taylor argues that her failure to timely object to the Notice did not bar her from contesting Mr. Pandola’s avowal that he owed no child support arrears. The statute requires a party registering a foreign support order to file a sworn statement of arrearages due under that order. The superior court held that the deadline for objecting to the registration of a foreign order also applied to the amount of arrearages stated.
The Court of Appeals held that the lower court misunderstood and misapplied the statute. Mrs. Taylor’s failure to timely object to the Notice waived her right to contest confirmation of the support order. As a result, the May 2004 Order was confirmed and the Arizona court acquired jurisdiction to enforce it. But the statute does not impose the same consequences for Mrs. Taylor’s failure to object to Mr. Pandola’s avowal about arrearages. The order is subject to confirmation under the statutes, not the filing party’s calculation of arrearages.
Once the foreign order is registered and confirmed, the Arizona court acquires jurisdiction to enforce the order. To do so, it first determines the arrearages due. The language of the statute does not support the opposite conclusion. It provides that “a hearing to contest the validity or enforcement of the registered support order must be requested within twenty days.” It does not refer to any duty to seek a hearing to contest the validity of the filing party’s declaration of arrears.
Mr. Pandola argues that the statute discusses “enforcement of the order and the alleged arrearages.” The Court of Appeals construed “alleged arrearages” to mean that a failure to object may result in proceedings to collect any arrearages referenced in that order. Under the statutes, the amount of arrearages is a matter of fact to be determined by the Arizona court. This happens on a party’s motion to enforce the order. This construction is consistent with the statute, which specifically requires an objection to the “validity or enforcement of the registered support order.”
The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part the orders of the superior court. The Court also vacated the award of attorney fees for Mr. Pandola and remanded the case for further proceedings.