Clippard v. Clippard, SD 37050

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtGARY W. LYNCH, C.J.
Citation642 S.W.3d 761
Parties Mark Alan CLIPPARD, Respondent, v. Catherine Sue CLIPPARD, Appellant.
Decision Date25 March 2022
Docket NumberSD 37050

642 S.W.3d 761

Mark Alan CLIPPARD, Respondent,
Catherine Sue CLIPPARD, Appellant.

No. SD 37050

Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District, Division Two.

FILED: March 25, 2022

Appellant's attorney: Charles B. Cowherd and Derek A. Ankrom, Springfield.

Respondent's attorney: Gail L. Fredrick, Springfield.


Catherine Sue Clippard ("Mother") appeals the circuit court's judgment modifying child support orders that arose out of a decree dissolving her marriage to Mark Alan Clippard ("Father"). Among her contentions, Mother makes two meritorious arguments concerning the circuit court's (1) failure to make a statutorily required finding in determining child support and (2) failure to divide education costs in accordance with the parties’ parenting plan. We reverse the circuit court's judgment in those respects, do not reach the remaining arguments in Mother's points, affirm the judgment in all other respects and remand the case to the circuit court with directions.

Factual and Procedural Background

The judgment dissolving the parties’ marriage was entered on August 27, 2003 (the "dissolution judgment"). Two children were born of that marriage: Martha ("Daughter"), born on September 10, 1991, and Luke ("Son"), born on December 22, 1997. No party contests the following relevant facts: (1) Daughter is physically or mentally incapacitated from supporting herself, insolvent, and unmarried, see section 452.340.4,1 and is receiving residential care and support from the Nova Center; and (2) Son became emancipated upon turning 21 on December 22, 2018.

The dissolution judgment incorporated an agreed upon parenting plan as part of a marital settlement agreement. In 2009, the amount of child support that Father was required to pay Mother under the parenting plan was modified upward, but provisions of the original parenting plan not addressed by the modification remained in effect. Only two requirements imposed by the parenting plan and its 2009 modification are relevant to this appeal: (1) the requirement that Father pay a total of $2,374 per month in child support with $1,700 going to the Family Support Center as trustee for Mother and the remaining $674 going directly to Mother, provided that Father would receive a dollar-for-dollar credit for Social Security benefits paid to Mother for the support, care, and benefit of Daughter; and (2) the requirement that "Father and Mother shall divide, on a pro-rata basis based on their adjusted gross income shown on their Form 1040, the cost each year for [Son] to attend a post-secondary college, university, or vocational/technical school, state or private," subject to a list of enumerated limitations, none of which are relevant.

In February and March of 2019, the parties, each alleging substantial and continuing changes in circumstances, filed competing motions to modify their child support obligations. After a trial in September 2020, the circuit court entered a judgment of modification. That judgment (1) reduced Father's child support obligation to $300 per month, retroactive to April 1, 2019, for the care and support of Daughter; and (2) required Mother to reimburse Father $5,823.98 for college expenses incurred by Son. A post-judgment

642 S.W.3d 764

motion, filed by Mother and raising all relevant issues, was thereafter denied.

Mother timely appeals, raising two points relied on.

Standard of Review

"Our standard of review in a dissolution action is governed, as in any court-tried case, by the standard set forth in Murphy v. Carron , 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976)." Schollmeyer v. Schollmeyer , 393 S.W.3d 120, 122 (Mo. App. 2013). "We will affirm the decree of dissolution unless it is not supported by substantial evidence, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the law." Barth v. Barth , 372 S.W.3d 496, 503 (Mo. App. 2012). All of Mother's points allege that the circuit court "misapplied the law[.]" "If the issue is one of law, this Court reviews de novo to see if the circuit court misapplied the law." JAS Apartments, Inc. v. Naji , 354 S.W.3d 175, 182 (Mo. banc 2011).

Discussion 2

Point 1 – Child Support Modification Omitted Statutorily Required Finding

In her first point, Mother contends:

The trial court erred in reducing [Father]’s child support obligation to $300.00 per month in the judgment, because the trial court misapplied the law in deviating from the form 14 calculation of presumed correct child support amount, in that, the trial court (1) failed to make the statutorily required finding that the presumed correct child support amount is unjust or inappropriate, and (2) erroneously gave [Father] credit for governmental benefits received by the child[.]

Mother's first argument is correct and, therefore, we need not reach the second.

In determining child support, the circuit court is required to follow a two-step procedure. Sullins v. Sullins , 417 S.W.3d 878, 881 (Mo. App. 2014) ; accord section 452.340.9; Rule 88.01.3 "First, the trial court is required to calculate the child support amount pursuant to Civil Procedure Form 14 (" Form 14"), either by accepting one of the parent's Form 14 calculations or by performing its own Form 14 calculation." Sullins , 417 S.W.3d at 881. "Second, the trial court considers whether the presumed Form 14 amount is ‘unjust or inappropriate ’ after considering all relevant factors." Id. (emphasis added). Regarding the second step, "[a] written finding or specific finding on the record ... that the application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case, after considering all relevant factors ... shall be required and shall be sufficient to rebut the presumption in the case." Section 452.340.9 (emphasis added).

Father suggests that the circuit court satisfied these requirements and, in support of his argument, points to paragraphs 15 through 18 of the circuit court's judgment. Those paragraphs, in toto , state as follows:

15. That [Daughter] still receives the Social Security benefit of approximately $783.00 per month. In addition, Medicaid reimburses the balance of the Nova Center's cost in
642 S.W.3d 765
an amount of over $8,200.00 per month, in other words, all of [Daugther]’s [sic] are paid in full by Social Security and Medicaid.

16. Even though [Daughter] has been in residential care since October 01, 2018 Father has remained consistent in payment of $1,700.00 in Child Support to the Mother. Both parties still have expenses at their

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