Arizona Court of Appeals
Peralta v. Peralta
In Peralta v. Peralta, an unpublished memorandum decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed orders for legal decision-making and parenting time, and vacated the family court’s child support order to be recalculated.
The parties married in 2010 and had one child together. In 2016, Father filed for divorce and sought emergency temporary orders based on allegations that Mother committed at least three acts of domestic violence.
The family court granted the emergency motion and awarded sole legal decision-making to Father. After an evidentiary hearing, it affirmed that order and awarded Mother unsupervised parenting time.
After additional motion practice, the case proceeded to trial where the family court divided all community property and debts, calculated past and prospective child support, awarded equal parenting time, gave Mother sole legal decision-making authority, and awarded Mother a portion of her attorney’s fees.
The family court granted Father’s motion for a new trial, but ultimately it affirmed its previous findings regarding child support and Father appealed.
Father first argued that he was denied due process when the family court reduced the trial time from two days to one day.
Under Arizona law, family courts must provide an opportunity for litigants to be heard “at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.” Courts still have the discretion to impose reasonable time limits for all types of hearings, including evidentiary hearings.
Here, the family court explained that the numerous pretrial hearings alleviated the need for additional trial time because the judge was already familiar with many of the contested issues in the case.
Father argued that he had only seven minutes to testify, but the record showed that he used his allotment of trial time to call four other witnesses before he testified. Throughout this examination, the judge frequently reminded Father to reserve sufficient time for his own testimony.
Time management is one of the greatest challenges in family court, even for attorneys. We often see opposing parties exhaust their time before presenting evidence or testimony they deem crucial to their cases. As was the case here, time mismanagement is not a basis for reversal, so it is essential that litigants are able to concisely and effectively present their cases.
Father next argued that the family court erred when it awarded sole legal decision-making to Mother. Among Father’s arguments is that the family court misapplied A.R.S. § 25-403.03(D), which establishes a presumption against awarding sole legal decision-making authority to a parent who committed acts of domestic violence.
But the trial record indicated a history of mutual domestic violence and that presumption expressly “does not apply if both parents have committed an act of domestic violence.” So the family court correctly rejected this argument.
The final issue Father appealed was the family court’s child support calculation. Although Father was unemployed, the judge attributed income equal to half of what Father earned at his previous employment to calculate child support.
The Arizona Child Support Guidelines authorize family courts to attribute income up to a parent’s full earning capacity whenever the parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed.
Father argued that because he was involuntarily terminated from his previous employment that the court could only attribute minimum wage. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument and clarified that the initial reason for unemployment is not determinative. It found that the family court considered numerous other factors, such as Father’s decision not to seek employment while he appealed his termination.
The Court of Appeals did, however, agree that the family court incorrectly considered supplemental income that was no longer available to Father in its attribution. It remanded the case back to the trial court to recalculate child support without factoring that source of income.