Jarvis v. Jarvis

Decision Date15 September 1998
Docket NumberNo. 970346,970346
Citation584 N.W.2d 84
PartiesGene JARVIS, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Jennifer JARVIS, Defendant and Appellee. Civil
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court

Randall Knutson (argued), of Zenas Baer & Associates, Hawley, and Alden H. Gjevre, Moorhead, for plaintiff and appellant.

Maureen Holman, of Serkland, Lundberg, Erickson, Marcil & McLean, Ltd., Fargo, for defendant and appellee.

NEUMANN, Justice.

¶1 Gene Jarvis appeals from an order denying his motion for reconsideration, amended findings and judgment, a new trial, and a stay in his divorce action against Jennifer Jarvis. We direct the judgment be modified, and we affirm the order.

I

¶2 The parties married in 1980. Two children, Sara and Andrea, were born during the marriage in 1988 and 1992. When the parties separated in 1996, Jennifer Jarvis was earning approximately $7.58 per hour in the business office at MeritCare, and Gene Jarvis was earning $7.25 per hour at Dakota Food Equipment. Gene Jarvis was also earning about $300 per month working at a part-time job, which he quit shortly after the parties separated.

¶3 Gene Jarvis sued for a divorce on April 2, 1996, and Jennifer Jarvis later counterclaimed for a divorce. The parties stipulated to an interim order giving physical custody of the children to her and liberal visitation to him; requiring him to pay $300 per month in child support and $100 per month for daycare in May, June, and July; requiring her to maintain health insurance for herself and the children; and requiring the parties to share equally any noncovered health care expenses for the children.

¶4 The judgment entered after trial granted Jennifer Jarvis a divorce; divided the parties' marital property; awarded her custody of the children, with reasonable visitation for Gene Jarvis; required him to pay child support of $356 per month; and required each party to pay one-half of "daycare expenses (currently $480 per month); preschool tuition for Andrea (currently $567); the monthly cost for Jennifer providing healthcare insurance for the children (currently $126 per month); one-half of all uncovered medical, dental, prescription, orthodontic, and eyeglass expenses."

¶5 Gene Jarvis moved for reconsideration; amendment of the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment; a new trial; and a stay. The trial court denied the motion, and Gene Jarvis appealed the denial to this Court.

¶6 The district court had jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 8, and N.D.C.C. § 27-05-06. The appeal was timely under N.D.R.App.P. 4(a). This Court has jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 6, and N.D.C.C. § 28-27-01.

II

¶7 The trial court's determinations on child custody and child support are ordinarily treated as findings of fact, which are not reversed on appeal unless they are clearly erroneous. See, e.g., Harty v. Harty, 1998 ND 99, pp 10, 14, 578 N.W.2d 519. That standard does not apply in this case, however, because Gene Jarvis did not appeal from the judgment, but from the denial of his post-trial motion:

We recognize that the clearly erroneous rule does not apply in this instance because there is no appeal from the judgment, but only from the order denying a motion for a new trial. A refusal to grant a new trial to correct a judgment based upon clearly erroneous findings of fact may, however, be an abuse of discretion. On the other hand, we have observed that the fact that a trial court may have made a mistake in the law when entering a judgment does not necessarily justify setting the judgment aside under a Rule 60(b), N.D.R.Civ.P., proceeding. See First Nat'l Bank of Crosby v. Bjorgen, 389 N.W.2d 789 (N.D.1986).

Kaiser v. Kaiser, 474 N.W.2d 63, 65 n. 2 (N.D.1991).

¶8 We do not reverse the denial of a motion for a new trial unless the trial court abused its discretion. Barnes v. Mitzel Builders, Inc., 526 N.W.2d 244, 246 (N.D.1995). Motions to reconsider are like motions to alter or amend judgments under N.D.R.Civ.P. 59. Austin v. Towne, 1997 ND 59, p 7, 560 N.W.2d 895. A decision on a motion under N.D.R.Civ.P. 59 is within the sound discretion of the trial court, and denial of a motion under N.D.R.Civ.P. 59 will not be reversed, absent a manifest abuse of discretion. Id. p 8. A trial court abuses its discretion if it acts in an arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable manner, or misinterprets or misapplies the law. Id. p 8.

III

¶9 Gene Jarvis first contends the trial court erred in ordering him to pay one-half ($63 per month) of Jennifer Jarvis's medical insurance premiums and one-half ($45 per month) of the children's noncovered medical expenses, and in failing to credit those amounts in determining his net income for calculating his child support obligation. In her brief, Jennifer Jarvis conceded Gene Jarvis's health insurance obligation should only be $31.50 per month. We direct the judgment be so modified.

¶10 In determining Gene Jarvis's net monthly income of $1,227, for which the presumptively correct child support obligation for two children under the child support guidelines is $356 per month, the trial court deducted his obligations for Medicare, FICA, and income taxes from his gross income. The trial court did not deduct the portion of the health insurance premiums Gene Jarvis was paying to afford coverage for the children. N.D. Admin. Code § 75-02-04.1-01(7)(d) requires such payments be deducted in determining a child support obligor's net income.

¶11 Applying the proper deduction under N.D. Admin. Code § 75-02-04.1-01(7)(d) for a portion of the health insurance premiums does not, however, change Gene Jarvis's child support obligation. Deducting the $31.50 per month conceded by Jennifer Jarvis to be the correct amount for his health insurance obligation results in a net monthly income of $1,195.50. Under N.D. Admin. Code § 75-02-04.1-02(5), "an obligor's monthly net income amount ending in fifty dollars or more must be rounded up to the nearest one hundred dollars, and must otherwise be rounded down to the nearest one hundred dollars." Thus, Gene Jarvis's net monthly income must be rounded up to $1,200 per month, which, under N.D. Admin. Code § 75-02-04.1-10, results in a child support obligation of $356 per month for two children, which is his present obligation under the judgment.

¶12 Regarding the requirement he pay one-half of the children's medical expenses not covered by health insurance, Gene Jarvis argues the trial court did not explain or make sufficient findings to justify an upward deviation from the guidelines.

¶13 Prior to the state adopting guidelines under the Family Support Act of 1988, child support awards were subject mainly to the discretion of the judge. See Laura W. Morgan, Child Support Guidelines: Interpretation and Application § 1.01 (1996). Generally, a judge would determine the monthly support award based on the needs of the child, and make a similar determination on the medical needs of the child. See, e.g., Nichols v. Tedder, 547 So.2d 766, 768-69 (Miss.1989) (stating "child support is but one type of expense which the court may award for the care and maintenance of children," and that medical, dental, optical, and psychiatric expenses are other properly awarded expenses).

¶14 In 1988, the federal government required the states to enact mandatory ("presumptively correct") child support guidelines, in order to continue to receive federal funding of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Family Support Act of 1988, Pub.L. 100-485, codified primarily at 42 U.S.C. §§ 654, 666-67. The federal government also required the states to require provision for a "child[ren]'s health care needs, through health insurance coverage or other means." See 45 C.F.R. § 302.56(c)(3).

¶15 To comply with the federal requirements in the Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 and the Family Support Act of 1988, North Dakota passed Senate Bill 2245 in 1989. Hearing on S.B. 2245 Before the House Human Services and Veterans Affairs Comm., 51st N.D. Legis. Sess. (Mar. 10, 1989). The legislature's bill summary of S.B. 2245 states:

Generally, this bill:

As amended, establishes provisions relating to the direct payment of child support payments to the clerk of court, rebuttable presumptions that a child support amount in compliance with support guidelines is the correct amount, immediate withholding of income for payment of child support, periodic review of child support orders and notice of the review results, health insurance coverage for a child who is the subject of a child support order, and genetic rather than blood test for purposes of determining paternity. The bill has varying effective dates for different sections of the bill.

Bill Summary of S.B. 2245, 51st N.D. Legis. Sess. (Mar. 21, 1989).

¶16 The North Dakota child support statutes and guidelines do not contain specific references to uninsured medical expenses. However, other state courts have addressed the issue of uninsured medical expenses awarded in conjunction with a child support award. These state courts have found it within the trial court's discretion to require, in addition to the child support award, payment of uninsured medical expenses. See generally Lulay v. Lulay, 583 N.E.2d 171, 172 (Ind.Ct.App.1991) (finding the commentary to the Child Support Guidelines allows for apportionment of uninsured medical expenses because the guidelines do not mandate any specific treatment of these expenses); Holdsworth v. Holdsworth, 621 So.2d 71, 78 and n. 1 (La.Ct.App.1993) (holding there was no error when medical expenses described by the trial court as "medical and dental expenses not covered by insurance" were apportioned half to each party, in addition to the child support award as determined under the guidelines); Jamison v. Jamison, 845 S.W.2d 133, 136-37 (Mo.Ct.App.1993) (holding it was within the court's discretion to order the obligor to pay half of the uninsured medical expenses, in addition to the child...

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