Modifiability of an Agreed Judgment

March 31, 2020 § Leave a comment

In 2012, Elizabeth Pumroy and her ex-husband, Michael Sisco, presented an agreed judgment to the chancellor. It modified the child support provision of the parties’ divorce judgment and included the following language:

” [the amount] is based upon [Sisco’s] current income … and shall not be modified absent a substantial decrease in [Sisco’s] income through no fault of his own.”

In 2018, DHS sued for downward modification due to emancipation of the oldest of the three children. Pumroy objected on the basis that their 2012 agreement was a binding contract. Following a trial, the chancellor did modify the child support based on a finding that one of the three children was, indeed, emancipated. Elizabeth appealed.

In Pumroy v. Sisco, handed down March 17, 2020, the COA affirmed. Judge Cory Wilson wrote the opinion for a unanimous court:

¶12. Pumroy renews her contention that the parties’ 2012 agreement could not be modified because it was a binding contract. She asserts that under the “clear and unambiguous” terms of the contract, Sisco was obligated to pay $500.00 per week in child support “until such time as the minor children are emancipated by the laws of the state of Mississippi.” Pumroy contends that under the language of the 2012 agreed order, no modification is proper until
all of the children are emancipated, as opposed to when each of the children is emancipated. The chancellor declined to read the prior order this way, stating that the court would not “read anything more into their agreement,” so as “not [to] allow a modification when one of the children has become emancipated.”

¶13. We find no error in the chancellor’s determination that a modification in child support was warranted in this case. “[S]upport obligations most certainly can be modified when there is a finding of a material change in circumstances, which was not foreseeable at the time of the judgment of divorce.” Short v. Short, 131 So. 3d 1149, 1151-52 (¶¶7-8) (Miss. 2014) (finding that language in the parties’ divorce agreement stipulating that father should never pay less than $3,000 per month in child support was modifiable upon showing that a material change in circumstances had occurred); see also Collado v. Collado, 282 So. 3d 1239, 1242 (¶9) (Miss. Ct. App. 2019) (stating that court-approved child support agreement is subject to modification when a party seeking modification shows a material change in circumstances). “Our supreme court has also made it clear that ‘a parent is relieved of the
legal duty to support his child once the child is emancipated whether by attaining the age of majority or otherwise.’” Andres v. Andres, 22 So. 3d 314, 317 (¶7) (Miss. Ct. App. 2009) (quoting Houck v. Houck, 812 So. 2d 1139, 1142 (¶9) (Miss. Ct. App. 2002)); see also Miss. Code Ann. § 93-11-65(8)(a) (Supp. 2008).

¶14. As in Short, we find that the parties’ 2012 agreement, as embodied in the chancery court’s October 3, 2012 order, was indeed modifiable upon a showing that a material change in circumstances had occurred. In 2017, Sisco requested that DHS file a “Petition to Modify Final Judgment,” alleging a material change in circumstances because of the parties’ eldest child’s emancipation. Pumroy did not dispute that their child had been emancipated; instead, she simply contended that the chancery court could not modify the 2012 agreement until all of their children were emancipated. Based on the undisputed fact that the parties’ eldest child was emancipated, the chancellor granted Sisco’s requested modification and held that “the child support obligation of [Sisco] be reduced to the statutory guidelines.” Based upon the record before us, we find that the chancellor was not manifestly wrong in so ordering. We therefore affirm the child support modification.

Thoughtlings:

  • Don’t forget that child support may either be global (one amount for all children) or per-child (a set amount for each child). When the child support is global, whether to decrease child support on emancipation of one child is discretionary with the judge. The chancellor could find that the remaining children still need the same amount and refuse to decrease it.
  • Judgments for child support and alimony are modifiable, period. It matters not whether they were agreed. The chancellor probably wished he had a do-over in approving that 2012 agreed judgment. But sometimes, being human, we need to approve things we’d rather not after the parties have negotiated away a day of trial and everyone wants to go home.

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