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FAMILY LAW 66: The court affirmed the trial court’s retroactive child support modification as to the second credit to which plaintiff-mother admitted at the referee hearing, and reversed and remanded as to the trial court’s equitable abatement of th

The parties have two children in common, and both children are now adults. The parties were never married, but plaintiff was granted custody and defendant was ordered to pay child support. After the youngest child turned eighteen, defendant sought a formal change in custody and to terminate his child support obligations. The parties’ statements at the referee hearing indicate that some kind of efforts were made to modify the child support order in the interim, but none of those efforts were ever made formal. By the time of the referee hearing, defendant owed an arrearage of $21,210.99  to the State of Michigan, and he owed an arrearage to plaintiff of $11,202.95. As plaintiff concedes on appeal, at the referee hearing, she explained to the referee that she had “signed off” on one credit of $10,000.00 while defendant was living in Arkansas, and another credit of $10,000.00 “when the kids were smaller.” However, for no explained reason, the Friend of the Court’s records (and defendant’s calculated arrearage to plaintiff), only reflected one of those credits. The trial court made factual findings that plaintiff and defendant had actually agreed to two reductions in defendant’s child support arrearages in the amount of $10,000 each, but only one credit was reflected in their Friend of the Court file. The trial court reduced defendant’s arrearages by $10,000 to account for the parties’ second agreement, which left $1,202.95 owing to plaintiff. The court abated the remainder of defendant’s arrearages owed to plaintiff, reasoning that the children residing with defendant constituted “overwhelming equitable grounds.”

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Generally, this Court reviews child support orders and orders modifying support for an abuse of discretion. Whether the trial court properly acted within the child support guidelines is a question of law that this Court reviews de novo.

EQUITABLE ABATEMENT

Plaintiff first argues that equity is an impermissible basis for retroactively modifying a child support obligation. This Court has clearly explained that, pursuant to MCL 552.603(2), equity is not a permissible basis for retroactively modifying child support orders. The trial court erred in abating the $1,202.95.

SECOND ARREARAGE CREDIT

Plaintiff also argues that the trial court erred in deducting the second credit of $10,000.00, contending that she never actually granted him any such second credit. Pursuant to MCL 552.603(5), a support order may be retroactively modified by “a court approved agreement between the parties.” Plaintiff argues that there was neither an agreement nor approval by a court, as proved by the absence of any such agreement in the records of the Friend of the Court. We disagree. The  trial court did not clearly err in finding that there was an agreement. As discussed, plaintiff described to the referee having “signed off” on two separate credits of $10,000.00 each, and she later affirmatively agreed that she had given two such credits. Indeed, plaintiff recognizes as much on appeal. We are not definitely and firmly convinced that the trial court made a mistake in concluding that the parties agreed to two credits of $10,000.00. Thus, “court approved” means nothing more extraordinary than an agreement to which a court gives its assent. By necessary implication, the trial court gave that assent here. We are therefore unable to conclude that the trial court erred in applying the second $10,000.00 credit to retroactively modify defendant’s support order, pursuant to MCL 552.603(5).

ADVICE TO CLIENTS FACING ISSUES IN FAMILY LAW CASES

Aldrich Legal Services understands what a stressful time this is for you when you have support arrearage issues.

Aldrich Legal Services represent parents throughout southeast Michigan with a wide range of family law related matters.

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