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In re Sonia

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

April 7, 2011

In the Matter of Sonia
v.
Weaver and Timothy J. Weaver

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

The respondent, Timothy J. Weaver, appeals an order of the trial court modifying his child support obligation. He argues that the trial court erred in: (1) finding that the child care expenses of the petitioner, Sonia V. Weaver, increased to the level of a substantial change in circumstances; and (2) barring him from arguing that a downward deviation from the guidelines was appropriate. We affirm.

Trial courts have broad discretion in reviewing and modifying child support orders. In the Matter of Forcier & Mueller, 152 N.H. 463, 464 (2005). Because trial courts are in the best position to determine the parties' respective needs and their respective abilities to meet them, we will overturn modification orders only if it clearly appears that the trial court engaged in an unsustainable exercise of discretion. Id. To obtain modification of a support obligation within three years of the entry of the last order of support, the moving party must show a substantial change in circumstances that makes continuing the original order improper and unfair. In the Matter of Lynn & Lynn, 158 N.H. 615, 617 (2009); see RSA 458-C:7 (Supp. 2010). Although RSA 458-C:7 does not specify what constitutes a substantial change in circumstances, the trial court may consider a variety of factors in determining whether the financial situation of the parties has changed and whether modification is required. Lynn, 158 N.H. at 617.

In this case, the trial court found that, at the time of their divorce, the parties agreed upon an amount that was based upon equal parenting time of the parties' two children and the respondent's assumption of daycare/summer camp expenses (expenses). The court further found that the respondent subsequently declined to pay the expenses and that the petitioner was now solely responsible for them, which were approximately $250 per month during the school year and $1800 during the summer. There is support in the record for this finding. The trial court further found that this shift in responsibility constituted a substantial change in circumstances that warranted a modification of the child support obligation. The trial court then increased the respondent's child support obligation by splitting responsibility for the expenses between the parties.

The respondent also contends that the trial court erred in barring him from arguing that a downward deviation from the guidelines was warranted. We do not read the trial court's statement at the hearing so broadly. Indeed, the trial court increased monthly child support from $1350 to $1525 per month; this amount is substantially below the guidelines amount of $2396 per month. To the extent that the respondent argues that the trial court failed to consider his additional expenses, including his current wife's medical expenses, a review of the parties' financial affidavits does not support his claim of error, in that his affidavit contains no entry for such expenses. See, e.g., In the Matter of Rohdenburg & Rohdenburg, 149 N.H. 276, 278 (2003) (emphasizing importance of fully completed support affidavits); cf. Kessler v. Gleich, 156 N.H. 488, 494 (2007) (error may be harmless where it did not affect outcome or where supreme court can see from entire record that no injury has been done).

Affirmed.

DUGGAN, HICKS and CONBOY, JJ., ...


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