California child support guidelines triggered in interstate divorce

Among the many complexities that can arise during the divorce process, arguments over which state's laws apply to the dissolution can be particularly challenging. From out-of-state child custody and visitation determinations to spousal support durations, choice of venue in a divorce case frequently has major implications.

A recent case before the California Court of Appeal, In re Marriage of Barth, involved a dispute over child support in a divorce that originally arose in Ohio. In the end, the husband, who was successful in having the case removed to California, ended up paying significantly higher amounts of child support. In fact, the court's opinion began with, "If ever there was a case where the adage 'be careful what you wish for' applied, this is surely it."

The couple was married for 15 years and had two children before the wife filed for divorce in 2004 based on the husband's admission of extramarital affairs. The family had recently moved to California, and the wife immediately returned to Ohio with the children upon discovery of her husband's infidelity.

Both spouses filed for divorce on consecutive days. The wife filed first in Ohio, followed by the husband a day later in California. After a hearing based on the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the California family court proceedings were stayed pending the outcome of the Ohio proceedings.

The Ohio court ruled that it had jurisdiction over the matter, based in part on the father's frequent business presence in the state and the fact that he often stayed in a house located near his wife that he had helped his mother purchase. The court awarded primary custody and $1,600 in monthly child support to the mother.

The father appealed and finally prevailed in 2007 when the Ohio Supreme Court held that the mother had changed residency upon moving to California and had not been back in Ohio long enough to meet its six-month residency requirements before filing a divorce action. After the Ohio case was dismissed, the father successfully petitioned to have the stay lifted on his California divorce petition.

Resolving complex out-of-state child support and custody issues

The primary issue arising out of the California divorce proceedings was whether the father should be required to pay child support retroactive to the date of his original petition back in 2004. The father, who represented himself in the proceedings, argued that this should not occur because the mother had initially defaulted by not responding to the California divorce summons.

The family court disagreed with this argument, and the Court of Appeal agreed. The lower court had rejected many of the father's arguments regarding his changed financial circumstances due to his claim that he had lost his job because of his many travels to Ohio to defend his interests in the original divorce proceedings. The appeals court therefore affirmed the lower court's finding that the father was responsible for between $2,253 and $7,239 in retroactive monthly support under California's child support guidelines. The large difference in monthly support amounts was due to the fluctuating income of the parties and changes in child custody arrangements from 2004 to 2007.

The Court of Appeals also upheld the lower court's imputation of income to the father in excess of eight times what father had reported to the court. The lower court found that the father deliberately misled the court regarding his income " for the purpose of skewing the court's calculation of guideline child support." The father was a CPA and owned several businesses. Therefore, he prepared his own income taxes and used them to demonstrate his income. The lower court determined that the father failed to accurately disclose, on numerous occasions, the actual income he received from all sources.

Legal complexities often arise when parents cannot agree on the amount of child support that should be imposed after divorce, especially when one parent or the other parent with the children lives in another city, state or country. Nearly all states use a guideline formula or calculation to determine child support (per federal requirements), but the exact formula or calculation may differ from state to state. A California divorce lawyer can explain a spouse's rights whether the parents will remain in the same city or one party has moved to another state or out of the country.