In Ferguson v. Prailleau, an unpublished memorandum decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the family court’s orders for parenting time and child support; and vacated its orders regarding attorney’s fees.
In February 2018, Father filed a petition to establish legal decision-making, parenting time, and child support. He sought joint legal decision-making and a graduated schedule for parenting time. The term graduated schedule is used to refer to a parenting plan that expands a parent’s parenting time over a certain period of time, usually imposed when the child and the parent have a limited relationship.
Mother filed a response where she requested sole legal decision-making and asked the family court to restrict Father’s parenting time and retroactively establish child support.
After an evidentiary hearing, the family court ordered joint legal decision-making and parenting time that gradually increased over time. The family court denied Mother’s request to establish child support back to the date of separation. It found that Mother failed to seek support in a timely manner and that her actions “demonstrate[d] an intent to remove Father from the child’s life.” The ruling also declined to award attorney’s fees because “[n]either Party has requested an award.”
Mother appealed and argued that unsupervised parenting time was contrary to the child’s best interest. She claimed it would endanger the child because the child and Father had no relationship.
The Court of Appeals rejected this argument and explained that Mother presented no evidence to support her contentions. It affirmed the family court’s decision to award immediate unsupervised parenting time to Father.
Mother also contested the calculation of child support. She argued that the family court erred when it did not include medical insurance and her childcare costs in its support calculation.
Pursuant to the Arizona child support guidelines, family courts must “add to the Basic Child Support Obligation the cost of the children’s medical dental or vision insurance coverage, if any.”
However, in this case, Mother did not list any insurance costs in her affidavit of financial information, child support worksheet, or pretrial statement and she testified that the child was covered by Medicaid.
When it comes to childcare expenses, Guidelines § 9(B)(1) gives family courts discretion to include childcare expenses in child support calculations. This means that, unlike medical insurance, inclusion is not mandatory. Family courts regularly exclude childcare costs for a number of reasons.
Here, just like the medical insurance issue, Mother listed no childcare costs in her affidavit of financial information. She testified that unidentified withdrawals and bank transfers were for childcare but the family court found that testimony unpersuasive.
Trial courts have considerable discretion to determine witness credibility and weigh evidence. It is not the role of the Court of Appeals to reweigh testimony or evidence.
Mother further argued that the family court erred when it declined to retroactively establish child support earlier than the date of the petition. Pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-320(C), family courts may establish child support retroactively up to three years before the petition is filed. Again, this statute confers discretion and not a requirement.
The Court of Appeals found that the family court properly considered all relevant circumstances, as the statute requires, before it denied Mother’s request for retroactive child support.
Not all of the family court orders were affirmed, however. Its decision not to award attorney’s fees was based on the incorrect belief that neither party requested fees. Because both parties did request attorney’s fees in their pretrial statements, the Court of Appeals vacated this portion of the order and remanded it to the family court to consider their competing requests.