January 30, 2019 § 2 Comments
Tammy and Dennis Ratcliff were divorced in 2009. Tammy got custody of the parties’ daughter, SDR, and Dennis was ordered to pay child support.
In 2016, Tammy (now Hubbard), filed a contempt action against Dennis for unpaid child support. Dennis counterclaimed that SDR was emancipated and for termination of support.
Following a hearing, the chancellor found no one in contempt, and ruled that SDR was emancipated on August 1, 2016. She ordered that Dennis would get a credit for child support he paid after the emancipation date, and that Tammy would have to repay him for it. Tammy appealed.
The COA reversed and rendered on the emancipation date, but affirmed on all other points in Hubbard v. Ratliff, handed down December 11, 2018. On the issue of the emancipation date, here is how Judge Tindell discussed the court’s holding:
¶2. Although the chancery court set SDR’s emancipation date at August 1, 2016, there is insufficient record evidence to support her emancipation on this date. Based on Hubbard’s testimony, the chancery court understood that SDR took some summer classes after graduating high school. The start and end dates of these classes do not appear in the record. Whether SDR was enrolled as a full-time or part-time student is not apparent. What is clear from the record is that SDR joined the military in November 2016.
So, SDR was emancipated as of November, 2016, by entry into military service, but Tammy continued to collect child support that was being withheld from Dennis’s pay check. The chancellor found that Tammy had to pay it back to him, but Tammy argued on appeal that she had no duty to do so. Here’s what the COA said:
¶12. Substantial evidence supports the chancery court’s factual findings regarding the payments made by Ratliff in support of SDR. The record shows child-support payments consistently being subtracted from Ratliff’s pay, and testimony supports the amounts of medical-insurance and dental-insurance payments also withdrawn twice a month. Further, the chancery court found Hubbard knew SDR was emancipated and yet allowed Ratliff’s payments to continue.
¶13. The supreme court has permitted a credit for child-support payments made after a child’s emancipation. See Dep’t of Human Servs. v. Fillingane, 761 So. 2d 869, 872 (¶13) (Miss. 2000); Sumrall v. Munguia, 757 So. 2d 279, 284 (¶28) (Miss. 2000). In Fillingane, the chancery court reduced a father’s arrearages to reflect the emancipation of his children. Fillingane, 761 So. 2d at 870 (¶6). In Sumrall, the father argued that the chancery court erred when it failed to reduce retroactively his child-support payments to the date his son entered college. Sumrall, 757 So. 2d at 284 (¶26). The Sumrall court agreed with the father’s contention that the chancery court should have retroactively reduced his child-support payments to the date his son entered college and ordered a retroactive modification. Id. at 284 (¶28). Furthermore, the Sumrall court stated that non-custodial parents should be allowed to prove that they should receive credit for child-support payments made from “the point in time where the changes occurred. . . .” Id. at 284 (¶27). “It would be unwise to unduly restrict a chancellor’s ability to make an equitable ruling” when “child[-]support payments were made on behalf of a child subsequent to that child’s emancipation.” Fillingane, 761 So. 2d at 872 (¶13).
¶14. Given the precedent that allows a chancery court the discretion to grant a parent credit for child support paid after a child’s emancipation, we find the chancery court did not abuse its discretion in crediting Ratliff for the payments made after his obligation terminated. To hold otherwise would “unduly restrict a chancellor’s ability to make an equitable ruling.” Andres v. Andres, 22 So. 3d 314, 319 (¶17) (Miss. Ct. App. 2009) (quoting Fillingane, 761 So. 2d at 872 (¶13)).
Given the court’s ruling that the emancipation date was some three months later than that found by the chancellor, what effect did that have on the court’s order for credit and repayment? Here:
¶15. Following the supreme court’s holding in Fillingane, the chancery court should have the discretion to “grant an obligor parent a credit for child-support payments which were made on behalf of a child subsequent to that child’s emancipation.” Fillingane, 761 So. 2d at 872 (¶13); see also Caldwell v. Caldwell, 823 So. 2d 1216, 1221 (¶19) (Miss. Ct. App. 2002). Although the chancery court specifically awarded Ratliff a judgment for nine months of reimbursement, that amount is hereby modified to six months of payments totaling $3,204.2 Sufficient support for these amounts are shown in Ratliff’s employer payment summary for the child-support payments, and through Ratliff’s sworn testimony for the medical and dental insurance paid monthly. We affirm the remainder of the chancery court’s order.