Gooss v. Gooss

Decision Date19 November 2020
Docket NumberNo. 20200076,20200076
Citation951 N.W.2d 247
Parties Vickie M. GOOSS, nka Vickie M. Lenard, Plaintiff v. Jeffrey A. GOOSS, Defendant and Appellant and State of North Dakota, Statutory Real Party in Interest and Appellee
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court

Jennifer M. Gooss, Beulah, N.D., for defendant and appellant.

Sheila K. Keller, Special Assistant Attorney General, Bismarck, N.D., for statutory real party in interest and appellee.

VandeWalle, Justice.

[¶1] Jeffrey Gooss appealed from a second amended judgment after a district court modified his child support obligation. We affirm.

I

[¶2] Jeffrey Gooss and Vickie Gooss, now Vickie Lenard, divorced in Nevada in 2004. This action concerns child support for the parties’ child, J.T.G., who is now eighteen. In 2004, the Nevada court granted Lenard primary residential responsibility for J.T.G. The court awarded Gooss parenting time and required him to pay child support at $350.00 per month, which included $50.00 in child support arrears. In the event Lenard relocated from Nevada to Colorado, Gooss's child support obligation would be waived, and he would only bear travel expenses for himself and J.T.G. However, Lenard never relocated to Colorado, but she did relocate on multiple occasions to several other states with J.T.G.

[¶3] In 2009, the Nevada court granted Lenard permission to relocate to Montana with J.T.G. The court required Lenard to pay all travel expenses, and Gooss was required to pay $350 in child support. In 2013, the Nevada court modified the child custody order in line with a stipulation entered into by Lenard and Gooss. As part of this modification, Gooss was ordered to "pay child support of $350.00 for the month of March, 2013; payment of travel expenses [would] constitute child support thereafter."

[¶4] Gooss later moved to North Dakota, and Lenard moved to South Dakota with J.T.G. In July 2018, South Dakota's child support program requested the North Dakota Child Support Division assist in reviewing and modifying Gooss's child support obligation. On September 9, 2019, the State of North Dakota filed a motion for modification of child support. The State requested a modification of the medical support provision and that Gooss pay a modified child support amount of $709 per month.

[¶5] Gooss filed a countermotion to dismiss and a response to the State's motion. Gooss challenged the district court's jurisdiction to modify the child support originally ordered by the Nevada court. Gooss argued travel expenses were part of the parenting plan and North Dakota lacked jurisdiction to modify the child custody arrangement issued by another state under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA"). Gooss also challenged the calculation of child support, argued imposing child support was inequitable, and claimed a deviation for travel expenses was necessary. The district court held a hearing on the motions where it heard testimony and considered evidence.

[¶6] On January 16, 2020, the district court issued its order modifying child support. In its order, the district court found it had jurisdiction to order the child support modification under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act ("UIFSA"). The court modified the child support obligation and required the State to update the calculations based on information received during the hearing. Gooss testified at the hearing to the amount of expenses he incurred for gas, oil changes, alignments, tires, and tire rotations to exercise his parenting time. The court noted Gooss was allowed to exercise seven parenting time visits per year. However, the court found Gooss exercised only four of these visits. The court granted Gooss a downward deviation of $3,000 based on Gooss paying for travel expenses for the four visits. The district court issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law, order for second amended judgment and its second amended judgment after the State filed its post-hearing recommendations and updated child support calculations. Gooss was ordered to pay child support in the amount of $582.

II

[¶7] Gooss argues the district court did not have jurisdiction to modify the child support obligation under the UIFSA. A question regarding subject matter jurisdiction with no factual dispute is reviewed de novo by this Court. Harshberger v. Harshberger , 2006 ND 245, ¶ 16, 724 N.W.2d 148. Reviewing the jurisdiction of the district court requires interpreting the uniform laws that govern child support, the UIFSA, and child custody, the UCCJEA. This Court has held,

Statutory interpretation is a question of law, which is fully reviewable on appeal. Nelson v. Johnson , 2010 ND 23, ¶ 12, 778 N.W.2d 773. The primary purpose of statutory interpretation is to determine the intention of the legislation. In re Estate of Elken , 2007 ND 107, ¶ 7, 735 N.W.2d 842. Words in a statute are given their plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning, unless defined by statute or unless a contrary intention plainly appears. N.D.C.C. § 1-02-02. If the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, "the letter of [the statute] is not to be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit."
N.D.C.C. § 1-02-05. If the language of the statute is ambiguous, however, a court may resort to extrinsic aids to interpret the statute. N.D.C.C. § 1-02-39.

Ferguson v. Wallace-Ferguson , 2018 ND 122, ¶ 7, 911 N.W.2d 324 (quoting Zajac v. Traill Cty. Water Res. Dist. , 2016 ND 134, ¶ 6, 881 N.W.2d 666 ). "Statutes are to be construed as a whole and harmonized to give meaning to related provisions." Id. at ¶ 8 (citing N.D.C.C. § 1-02-07 ). This Court has held uniform laws are interpreted in a uniform manner, and the Court may seek guidance from decisions in other states which have interpreted similar provisions of uniform laws. Id.

[¶8] The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform Laws first approved the UIFSA in 1992, and revised it in 1996, 2001, and 2008. Ferguson , 2018 ND 122, ¶ 6, 911 N.W.2d 324. North Dakota first enacted the UIFSA in 1995, and incorporated the 2008 amendments effective in 2015, which are codified at N.D.C.C. ch. 14-12.2. Id. at ¶¶ 6 -7. "UIFSA governs, among other things, the procedures for establishing, enforcing, and modifying child support orders when more than one state is involved." Id.

[¶9] "Support order" is defined under the UIFSA as:

a judgment, decree, order, decision, or directive, whether temporary, final, or subject to modification, issued in a state or foreign country for the benefit of a child, a spouse, or a former spouse, which provides for monetary support, health care, arrearages, retroactive support, or reimbursement for financial assistance provided to an individual obligee in place of child support. The support order may include related costs and fees, interest, income withholding, automatic adjustment, attorney's fees, and other relief.

N.D.C.C. § 14-12.2-01(28) [ UIFSA § 102(28) (2008) ]. "Child support order" is defined as "a support order for a child, including a child who has attained the age of majority under the law of the issuing state or foreign country." N.D.C.C. § 14-12.2-01(2) [ UIFSA § 102(2) (2008) ]. UIFSA grants North Dakota courts the ability to modify child support orders issued in another state. N.D.C.C. § 14-12.2-45 [ UIFSA § 611 (2008) ]. The statute states:

[U]pon petition a tribunal of this state may modify a child support order issued in another state which is registered in this state if, after notice and hearing, the tribunal finds that:
a. The following requirements are met:
(1) Neither the child, nor the obligee who is an individual, nor the obligor resides in the issuing state;
(2) A petitioner who is a nonresident of this state seeks modification; and
(3) The respondent is subject to the personal jurisdiction of the tribunal of this state ....

Id.

[¶10] The UCCJEA is another uniform law. Its purpose is to "avoid jurisdictional competition and conflicts with courts of other States in matters of child custody which have in the past resulted in the shifting of children from State to State with harmful effects on their well-being." Schirado v. Foote , 2010 ND 136, ¶ 10, 785 N.W.2d 235 (citing Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act § 101 cmt. 1, 9 U.L.A. 657 (1999)). North Dakota adopted its version of the UCCJEA in 1999. Id. The law is codified at N.D.C.C. ch. 14-14.1. Id.

[¶11] Section 14-14.1-01, N.D.C.C. [ UCCJEA § 102(3) (1997) ], defines child custody determination as,

a judgment, decree, or other order of a court providing for the legal custody, physical custody, or visitation with respect to a child. The term includes a permanent, temporary, initial, and modification order. The term does not include an order relating to child support or other monetary obligation of an individual.

(Emphasis added); see also In re M.S.C. , No. 05-14-01581-CV, 2016 WL 929218, at *7-8 (Tex. App. Mar. 11, 2016) (finding allocation of travel expenses constituted part of a child support order and the UCCJEA did not apply as the court's jurisdiction under the UIFSA was proper). The UCCJEA prohibits North Dakota from modifying a child custody determination made by a court in another state, unless North Dakota has temporary emergency jurisdiction or jurisdiction to make an initial determination. N.D.C.C. § 14-14.1-14 [ UCCJEA § 203 (1997) ].

[¶12] The facts regarding jurisdiction in this case are not in dispute. First, Gooss, Lenard, and J.T.G. no longer live in Nevada. Gooss lives in North Dakota, and Lenard lives in South Dakota with J.T.G. Second, Lenard, a nonresident of North Dakota, sought modification of the child support order. Third, Gooss is also subject to the personal jurisdiction of North Dakota under N.D.R.Civ.P. 4(b)(1) because he lives here. The requirements for the district court to modify child support under the UIFSA were met.

[¶13] The Nevada court intended to make the travel expenses part of the child support order...

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