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Edmund A. Cutts, Jr. v. Nancy L. Trippe

December 20, 2012

EDMUND A. CUTTS, JR.
v.
NANCY L. TRIPPE



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Berger, J.

REPORTED

Matricciani, Berger, Kenney, James A., III. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.*fn1

Opinion by Berger, J.

This case arises from an order of the Circuit Court for Talbot County modifying the amount of child support to be paid by appellant, Edmund A. Cutts, Jr. ("Father"), to appellee, Nancy L. Trippe ("Mother"). The court also found that the parties' eldest child was a destitute adult child, as defined by statute, and that the parties therefore had a continuing obligation to support her. This appeal followed.

Father presents two questions for our review, which we have rephrased as follows:

I. Whether the circuit court erred by finding that the parties' daughter is a destitute adult child under FL §§ 13-101 and 13-102.

II. Whether the circuit court erred by adhering strictly to the child support guidelines contained in FL §§ 12-202 to 12-204 in modifying the parties' support obligations.

For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the judgment of the Circuit Court for Talbot County.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Father and Mother are the divorced parents of three children. Pursuant to the judgment of divorce, entered on February 3, 2005, the parties have joint legal custody of the children, subject to Father's specified visitation. The divorce decree, which incorporated the terms of a settlement agreement between the parties, required Father to pay $200 per week to Mother for the support of the children. Father was also ordered to provide health insurance coverage for the children.

Mother was required to pay all uninsured health expenses, co-pays, and deductibles up to $1,000 for a single illness or condition, without contribution from Father. Expenses over $1,000 would be paid one-third by Father and two-thirds by Mother. Mother was further ordered to pay the children's costs for private school, special education fees, book costs, room and board, and other private school expenses, without contribution from Father. Both parties' support obligations were set to terminate upon the first to occur for each child:

(1) death of the child or parent; (2) marriage of the child; (3) the child becoming selfsupporting; or (4) the child turning age 18, except if still in high school, in which case, support would continue until the child's graduation or the child's nineteenth birthday, whichever occurred first.

The oldest child, Sarah, was born on November 23, 1990. She was 19 years old at the time of the child support modification trial. Sarah was diagnosed with mild mental retardation at a young age. She has attended special schools her entire life and requires constant supervision. At the time of trial, Sarah attended a special school in New York for students who have an IQ below 70. When Sarah returns from school for weekends, holidays, and summer breaks, she resides at Mother's home, where she has her own room. Sarah is the beneficiary of a trust with a value of approximately $400,000 ("the trust"). Mother is the trustee of Sarah's trust, and has the sole power to disburse trust funds.

On January 26, 2010, Mother filed a motion to modify child support in the Circuit Court for Talbot County. The first count alleged that Father had failed and refused to provide reimbursements for certain medical and tutoring expenses incurred by the children. The second count sought modification of Father's child support obligations on the basis of material changes in circumstances, including: increases in the children's medical expenses, Mother's substantial loss of annual income, the inability of Sarah to support herself by reason of her disability, and Father's limited exercise of visitation, which placed the primary burden for the children's living expenses on Mother.

On March 8, 2010, Father filed a timely response to the motion to modify child support, and thereafter filed a counterclaim and amended counterclaim. The counterclaim alleged that there had been a material change in circumstances based on the children's attendance at boarding schools, and asked the court to establish a new custody and visitation schedule.

On February 1, 2011, a two day trial commenced. Mother filed a financial statement with the court detailing her monthly expenses for the three children. Mother testified that she pays 10 percent of the tuition for each child, and that her parents pay the balance. Aside from the tuition assistance provided by her parents, Mother testified that she pays for all of the children's other expenses, including food, transportation, clothes, summer camps, and tutors. In 2008, the children's health insurance provider initiated an $1,800 deductible, whereas there previously was no deductible. This deductible increased to $2,400 after December 2008. There was also a decrease in coverage for psychological care, from 80 percent to 20 percent, and increases in co-payment obligations. In the period between 2008 and 2009, Mother testified that she paid between $2,300 and $2,400 in deductibles on the health insurance policy. In the period between 2009 and 2010, Mother paid a similar amount.

As to Sarah in particular, Mother testified that she prepares Sarah's food and coordinates her medical appointments when Sarah is home. Mother partially paid $6,500 for Sarah's orthodontic bill, $603 for Sarah's oral surgery, and $200 to repair a broken orthodontic wire. Mother also introduced medical bills for Sarah totaling $4,520.95, which were related to Sarah's treatment for mild mental retardation.

Father testified that he was paying monthly insurance premiums of $1,112, which was an increase from the monthly premiums of between $500 and $600 charged at the time of the divorce. At trial, Father did not contest the amount of Sarah's orthodontic bills and agreed to be responsible for unpaid balances on those bills. Father, however, testified that he would not contribute to certain other medical expenses because, contrary to Mother's testimony, he had not been consulted about those expenses in advance.

The parties stipulated that Mother's income for the previous year was $72,601. The recent economic recession had affected Mother's income, resulting in a $90,000 to $100,000 reduction in income due to lost real estate commissions. Father's income for the prior year was $83,425.

The trial court issued a memorandum opinion on June 9, 2011. The trial judge found that Sarah was a destitute adult child within the meaning of Md. Code (1984, 2006 Repl. Vol.), §§ 13-101 and 13-102 of the Family Law Article ("FL"), and was therefore entitled to continuing support from Mother and Father. The court also found that there had been a material change in circumstances due to Mother's decreased salary, which warranted a modification to the parties' existing child support obligations. Accordingly, the trial court calculated the amount of child support for Sarah and for the youngest child using the parties' current incomes.*fn2 In calculating the amount of support, the trial court adhered strictly to the child support guidelines contained in FL ยงยง 12-202 to 12-204 ("the Guidelines"). This resulted in an increase in the amount of Father's child support obligations. The trial judge further determined that the increases in healthcare costs did not warrant any ...


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