THE BITE OF PAST-DUE CHILD SUPPORT

April 16, 2013 § 1 Comment

MCA 85-3-4 deals with execution of garnishments in Mississippi. Most garnishments are limited to 25% of “disposible income,” as defined in federal law. But if the judgment is for past-due child support, the garnishment may be as much as 50-65% of disposible income. That’s quite a bite.

In the MSSC case of Reasor v. Jordan, decided April 4, 2013, Frankie Reasor had gotten custody of his daughter from his ex-wife, Rose Jordan, in a modification case. He was also tagged with a hefty $24,000 judgment for past-due child support and unpaid medical expenses  of the child that predated the modification. The chancellor popped Frankie with a 55% garnishment, and, both impoverished and aggrieved, he appealed.

Here’s how Justice King’s majority opinion addressed the issue:

¶27. The Court has addressed this issue previously in Sorrell v. Borner, 593 So. 2d 986 (Miss. 1992). In Sorrell, the parents divorced, the mother was awarded custody, and the father was ordered to pay child support. Id. at 986. Later, the father sought a change in custody. Id. In response, the mother filed a counterclaim for past-due child support. Id. The chancellor awarded the father custody but held him in arrears, entering a judgment in favor of the mother for back child support. Id. The mother obtained a sixty-five percent garnishment on the father’s wages. Id. at 988. Aggrieved, the father filed a petition to modify the order (by offsetting his arrearage by the mother’s child-support obligation), and the chancellor denied his petition. Id. at 986-87.

¶28. On appeal, the father challenged the order, arguing that the garnishment should have been limited to twenty-five percent. Id. at 988. Although the father failed to attack the garnishment in his pleadings, the Court noted that the father made an oral objection at the hearing. Id. at 989. Reviewing the applicable statutes, the Court determined that:

The judgment awarded was for past due child-support, but [the mother] no longer had custody of the children. In our opinion, the legislature did not contemplate the exception language to be used in this situation, and [we] are of the opinion that the restriction listed in § 85-3-4(2)(a) should apply to the garnishment here.

Id. at 988. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded the chancellor’s judgment. Id. at 988-89.

¶29. Applying the Court’s reasoning in Sorrell, the withholding restriction in Section 85-3-4(2)(a)(i) should apply to Reasor as well. Like Sorrell, Reasor complained about the amount of the garnishment during his hearing. Also, when the judgment was awarded for past-due child support, Jordan no longer had custody of the child. Thus, the chancellor erred by ordering a fifty-five-percent withholding. Instead, the garnishment should have been limited to twenty-five percent of Reasor’s disposable income. Accordingly, we vacate the order and remand for a proper determination of withholding.

The main thing to take from this case is to be aware of the generous garnishment provisions as they relate to unpaid support. As I read the statute, they would apply not only to child support, but also to alimony.

When you read this case, look also at the MRCP 81 issues raised by the way that the original chancellor handled the case. I agree with Justice Pierce’s concurrance/dissent on this issue. R81 requires notice. I don’t agree that Mr. Reasor got proper notice in this case. Chalk this up as another case added to the confusion over how R81 works.

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