In McNeil v. Hoskyns, the Arizona Court of Appeals held that the family court may modify non-modifiable spousal maintenance when it is obtained through fraud on the court.
After Wife filed for divorce, the parties agreed to $5,000 per month in temporary child support and spousal maintenance. Due to miscommunication within his office, Husband unknowingly remitted double payments. At their trial, the parties affirmed their temporary orders and agreed that Husband would continue to make the same $5,000 monthly support payment for six additional years. The parties further agreed that the spousal maintenance would be non-modifiable and non-terminable. At that hearing, the family court questioned both parties whether Husband was current on his temporary support payments. Husband believed he was $2,500 behind. Wife did not disclose that Husband had actually overpaid support by $85,000. The family court adopted the parties’ agreements as an enforceable Rule 69 agreement and incorporated it into the divorce decree.
Approximately two years later, Wife filed a petition to enforce spousal maintenance where she alleged Husband owed more than $14,000 in arrears, though Wife knew Husband had overpaid support by tens of thousands of dollars.
When the family court ordered an accounting from the Clearinghouse, Husband discovered the overpayment and counter-petitioned for relief from the original decree. Wife responded and filed an additional petition for contempt, claiming Husband owed $49,102, for which Husband was briefly incarcerated.
An evidentiary hearing was held on Husband’s petition, where Wife testified that she knowingly received pre-decree overpayment of approximately $85,000. The family court found that Wife had perpetrated three instances of fraud on the court that vested authority to modify the non-modifiable spousal maintenance. It terminated Husband’s maintenance obligation and sanctioned Wife for her misrepresentations.
On appeal, Wife argued that the family court lacked authority to modify non-modifiable spousal maintenance pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-317, which “prevents the court from exercising jurisdiction to modify … maintenance” when the parties agree it should be non-modifiable.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the family court’s decision and held that the statute does not divest the family court of authority to modify spousal maintenance when the decree is a product of fraud on the court. It further distinguished between types of fraud to narrowly carve this exception.