Guzman v. Guzman

Decision Date12 January 1993
Docket NumberNo. 1,CA-CV,1
Citation854 P.2d 1169,175 Ariz. 183
PartiesPatricia A. GUZMAN, nka Patricia Leos, Petitioner-Appellant, v. William F. GUZMAN, Respondent-Appellee. 91-0193.
CourtArizona Court of Appeals


This is a case in which a father, pursuant to Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. ("A.R.S.") section 25-320(C), was ordered to pay child support through the time that his child was expected to graduate from high school, even though the child would reach the age of majority before that date. However, the minor child married before graduating. The trial court subsequently ruled that the support obligation automatically terminated when the child married prior to graduating from high school and therefore, the mother was required to reimburse the father for the monies he paid to her after the child's marriage to the extent these monies exceeded what he already owed in child support arrearages. The mother appeals that ruling. We affirm.


In January of 1975, the marriage of William and Patricia Guzman was dissolved. By the terms of the decree, which had been prepared by counsel for the mother and approved by the father, the mother received custody of the parties' three-year-old son. The father assumed a child support obligation in the amount of $75 per month until the child reached "the age of majority."

In September of 1988, when the child was sixteen, the mother sought modification of the child support order. In an order entered in December of 1988, the court found that changed circumstances justified an increase in child support to $235 per month. Because the child would turn eighteen before graduating from high school, the court ordered that the increased child support payments would extend beyond the child's eighteenth birthday through and including June 1, 1990, pursuant to A.R.S. section 25-320(C).

Six months after receiving the order of modification, the mother returned to court and requested a judgment for delinquent child support payments that had accrued in the years between 1981 and 1988. The courtgranted this request and entered judgment against the father in November of 1989 for delinquent child support payments and accrued interest totaling $2,678.40.

Meanwhile, in April of 1989, the minor child married and soon thereafter became a father. He was able to continue with his high school education and graduate as planned by June of 1990. The father (appellee) was unaware of his son's marriage. He continued making child support payments through wage assignments under the modified order for nearly a year. When the father eventually ascertained that the marriage had taken place, he filed a petition for declaratory judgment and relief concerning his child support obligation. He asked the court to declare that his obligation to pay child support had ceased when his son became emancipated by marriage. He requested an order requiring the mother to pay back any excess child support he had paid.

The trial court, over the mother's objection, granted relief to the father. In its judgment and order entered in January of 1991, the trial court determined that pursuant to Crook v. Crook, 80 Ariz. 275, 296 P.2d 951 (1956), "upon marriage of a minor child no further action is needed by the non-custodial parent to terminate support payments previously ordered." It found that the minor child had married in April of 1989, and that child support payments of $235 per month had been made thereafter by wage assignment through June 1, 1990. After applying a set off for an accumulated arrearage that had not been paid by the father, the court found that the father had paid $400 more than his support obligation. Accordingly, the court ordered the mother to return this amount to the father. The mother appeals this order, raising the following issues:

(1) Whether the trial court's order was an impermissible retroactive modification of child support;

(2) Whether under the provisions of A.R.S. section 25-320(C) and the trial court's previous order of support, the child support ordered did not automatically terminate upon the marriage of the minor child; and

(3) Whether the father had entered into an enforceable agreement to provide child support until the age of majority, regardless of whether the child married prior to that time.


We first consider the mother's argument that the trial court's order granting relief to the father was an impermissible retroactive modification of the child support order. We find this argument has no merit. The mother correctly points out that Arizona law does not allow support payments to be modified retroactively. This prohibition is articulated in A.R.S. section 25-327(A), which states that "except as otherwise provided in subsection F of § 25-317, the provisions of any decree respecting maintenance or support may be modified only as to installments accruing subsequent to notice of the motion for modification to the opposing party." This principle has been cited repeatedly in Arizona cases. E.g., Lamb v. Superior Court, 127 Ariz. 400, 621 P.2d 906 (1980); Hatch v. Hatch, 113 Ariz. 130, 547 P.2d 1044 (1976); Westberry v. Reynolds, 134 Ariz. 29, 653 P.2d 379 (Ct.App.1982).

In Jarvis v. Jarvis, 27 Ariz.App. 266, 268, 553 P.2d 1251, 1253 (1976), we stated that "each installment as it becomes due is in the nature of a final judgment conclusively establishing the rights and duties of the parties to that installment." Similarly, in Baures v. Baures, 13 Ariz.App. 515, 519, 478 P.2d 130, 134 (1970), Division Two of this Court noted that "a father who is required to make periodic payments for the support of minor children has an opportunity to relieve himself of that liability by a petition to modify the decree in futuro but he cannot remain silent while the installments accrue."

However, we conclude that the rule against retroactive modification of a child support order has no application to a situation in which a minor child has become emancipated through marriage. In Crook, a father who had been ordered to pay child support "until majority or the further Order of the Court" was not required to first obtain a modification of the divorce decree to be relieved of his obligation where the minor child married before reaching the age of majority. 80 Ariz. at 276, 296 P.2d at 951. The Arizona Supreme Court concluded that the marriage automatically terminated the support obligation without any need on the part of the father to seek modification. Id. It stated:

We hold that the marriage of the minor daughter in the instant case operated to create a relationship which was the legal equivalent of attaining majority on her part, within the contemplated meaning of the original decree of divorce as modified. The termination of the parental duty-relationship by her marriage had a direct effect upon the provisions of the decree, whereby no enforceable rights in support payments could thereafter accrue to plaintiff.

Id. at 278, 296 P.2d at 953.

The mother in the present case argues that the minor's marriage did not terminate the father's duty to provide support because of the legislature's subsequent modification of A.R.S. section 25-320(C) requiring support payments to continue past the age of majority while a child is attending high school. The mother argues that we should interpret section 25-320(C) and the trial court's order as requiring support payments to continue for a child attending high school after his emancipation whether it be by reaching the age of majority or by any other means such as marriage.

In 1987, the legislature added new subsection (C) to the child support statute. This subsection permitted the trial court to find that child support could continue past the age of majority if the child was actually attending high school, "but [could] not [continue] beyond June 1 of the school year during which the child reache[d] the age of majority." 1987 Ariz.Sess.Laws 223, 224. In 1988, the legislature deleted the language that gave the trial court discretion to extend the child support payments and mandated that support continue for a child attending high school through June 1 of the school year during which the child reached the age of majority. 1988 Ariz.Sess.Laws 1300, 1304. In 1990, the statute was again modified to eliminate the "June 1" time restriction. The statute now provides that "support shall continue to be provided during the period which the child is actually attending high school." 1990 Ariz.Sess.Laws 1199, 1200-01. Pursuant to the version of section 25-320(C) then in effect, the trial court's December 1988 order required support payments to continue through June 1, 1990. The order stated as follows: the minor child will reach the age of emancipation before graduation from high school so that there is good cause to extend the child support payments beyond the age of eighteen (18) up through and including June 1, 1990."

If our interpretation of section 25-320(C) hinged solely upon the language contained in that subsection and the reasoning in Crook, we might agree with the mother. She argues that the legislature, in providing for support to continue for a child in high school even though he reached the age of majority, intended that the support obligation be unaffected by other types of emancipation as long as the requirement of staying in school was being met. 1

Such an interpretation would not provide the mother with the full relief she is seeking. When the support obligation was modified, section 25-320(C) provided that support would not continue "beyond June 1 of the school year during which the child reache[d] the age of majority." The child was married in April of 1989. Consequently, even if we found that the...

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