Lawrence v. Lawrence, No. 90-CA-0305

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtPITTMAN; ROY NOBLE LEE
PartiesMary Joann F. LAWRENCE v. Randy Farrell LAWRENCE.
Decision Date23 January 1991
Docket NumberNo. 90-CA-0305

Page 1376

574 So.2d 1376
Mary Joann F. LAWRENCE
v.
Randy Farrell LAWRENCE.
No. 90-CA-0305.
Supreme Court of Mississippi.
Jan. 23, 1991.

Page 1377

Alice Dale Goodsell, Jackson, for appellant.

Lee B. Agnew, Agnew & Associates, Jackson, for appellee.

Before DAN M. LEE, P.J., and PRATHER and PITTMAN, JJ.

PITTMAN, Justice, for the Court:

Joann Lawrence and Randy Lawrence, parents of two children, were divorced on May 21, 1984, on the ground of irreconcilable differences. Over five years later, Joann Lawrence moved to modify the final divorce decree, alleging that there had been a material change in circumstances since 1984 and the child support which Randy Lawrence had been paying had become inadequate. Randy Lawrence answered and counterclaimed for more authority in the decisions involving the children's health and education. The chancery court found that there had been no substantial change in circumstances which would allow a modification

Page 1378

in the final decree. The court also found that Joann Lawrence was bound by the agreement, which provided that child support should end for each of the children at age eighteen. The court granted Randy Lawrence's counterclaim. Joann Lawrence appeals, assigning as error:

I. WHETHER AN AGREEMENT FOR CHILD SUPPORT TO CEASE AT AGE EIGHTEEN, PURSUANT TO AN AGREEMENT OF THE PARTIES WHICH WAS INCORPORATED INTO AND MADE A PART OF A FINAL DECREE OF DIVORCE ON THE GROUNDS OF IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES, IS BINDING ON THE COURT AND ON THE CUSTODIAL PARENT, THEREBY CUTTING OFF THE COURT'S POWER TO MODIFY THE DECREE TO INCLUDE CHILD SUPPORT FOR A CHILD WHO IS OVER EIGHTEEN, BUT UNDER TWENTY-ONE YEARS OF AGE, IS A COLLEGE STUDENT, AND DOING WELL IN SCHOOL; WHETHER THE COURT SHOULD HAVE CONSIDERED THIS FACT IN DETERMINING IF THERE HAD BEEN A MATERIAL CHANGE IN CIRCUMSTANCES SUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT A MODIFICATION OF CHILD SUPPORT.

II. WHETHER THE COURT WAS MANIFESTLY IN ERROR IN DISMISSING THE MOTION FOR MODIFICATION OF FINAL DECREE ON THE BASIS THAT THERE HAD BEEN NO MATERIAL CHANGE IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE PARTIES SINCE THE ENTRY, OF THE FINAL DECREE, WHERE A DAUGHTER WHO WAS FOURTEEN AT THE TIME OF THE DECREE IS NOW TWENTY, ENROLLED IN COLLEGE AND MAKING A'S; WHERE A SON WHO WAS NINE AT THE TIME THE DECREE WAS ENTERED IS NOW FIFTEEN AND READY TO BEGIN HIGH SCHOOL; AND WHERE THE NEEDS OF BOTH CHILDREN HAVE INCREASED SIGNIFICANTLY, ACCORDING TO UNDISPUTED TESTIMONY.

III. WHETHER THE COURT SHOULD ADOPT A RULE THAT THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF A MODIFICATION OF CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS SHOULD BE THE DATE THE MOTION TO MODIFY IS FILED WHERE IT APPEARS THE INCREASED NEEDS OF THE CHILD, OR CHILDREN, EXISTED AS OF THAT DATE.

Joann Lawrence (Joann) and Randy Lawrence (Randy) were divorced on May 21, 1984, on the ground of irreconcilable differences. Two children were born of the marriage: Kim, who was fourteen at the time of the divorce; and Ben, who was nine. An agreement, which provided for care and custody of the children and the settlement of the property rights of the parties, was attached to and made a part of the final decree of divorce. The agreement provided that Randy Lawrence should pay monthly child support in the amount of $150.00 per child, "until such time as said children shall reach the age of 18 years or otherwise become emancipated or self-supporting." There were other matters agreed to which they are not pertinent to this opinion.

On September 28, 1989, Joann Lawrence moved to modify the final decree, alleging that there had been a substantial change in circumstances since 1984. The alleged changes included: Kim, 19, was a sophomore at the University of Southern Mississippi, majoring in engineering; Ben, 15, needed special tutoring which cost $210.00 per month; the children's needs, and attendant expenses, had risen as they had grown older; Randy Lawrence, single with no other children, had received pay increases since the final decree, and was also working at an extra job. Joann asked that Randy's child support obligation be raised to 25% of his gross monthly pay; that he be required to pay 1/2 of college tuition, books and incidental expenses for the children, including the special tutoring for

Page 1379

Ben; that he pay certain outstanding medical bills per the original agreement; and that "he should be required to pay child support and education expenses, as outlined above, together with medical, dental and drug bills as called for in the Final Decree, until the minor children reach the age of twenty-two years, or otherwise become emancipated or self-supporting, provided, however, that they are still in school and making their grades."

Randy Lawrence filed an answer and counterclaim on October 24, 1989, denying that any relief was due his ex-wife.

The hearing in this cause was held on January 19, 1990. Joann and Randy Lawrence were the only witnesses. Joann had an adjusted monthly gross income of $2,448.74. Joann owned an undivided 1/2 interest in a home that she shared with her mother. She also held a second mortgage on another home, and received as a result a monthly payment of $157.77. Joann owned one car, a 1989 Hyundai Excel, which Kim used exclusively. Joann made all the car and insurance payments. According to Joann, Kim's expenses had increased significantly since 1984. Along with the car payment, $185.00 per month, and the car insurance, Joann also paid $550.00 per semester for tuition, plus books and incidental college expenses. Kim received $250.00 or $275.00 per semester via a Pell Grant. Joann had also co-signed with Kim a low interest loan, approximately $1100.00 per semester, to pay what the Pell Grant did not. As for Ben, and how his needs had increased, Joann testified: "Well, he's fifteen, and so his clothes are a lot more expensive and his entertainment needs are a lot more expensive. He just got his driver's license. He wants to be insured to drive a car. And everything for him costs a lot more money now." Joann was aware of Randy giving Kim $100.00/month since he had stopped paying the child support to her (Joann). Joann had no objection to Randy being involved in the discussion of the future of the children.

Randy Lawrence, a sergeant in the patrol division of the Jackson Police Department, was a seventeen-year veteran of the police force. He received a regular gross salary of $2381.00. He had also been receiving as much as $750.00 a month in overtime. He also testified that he had been able to hold down a second job as a security guard for Ramada Inns. Randy had earned $321.00 on the extra job from June until November 1989. Randy was single and lived in his own home, which was worth approximately $73,000.00. The loan balance on the home was approximately $57,000.00. His monthly payment was $610.00, including tax and insurance.

Randy denied that he had terminated child support for Kim after she had reached age eighteen and that instead of paying it to Joann, he paid $100.00 in cash each month directly to Kim, and placed $50.00 per month in an account for her to use as ready cash. Both Randy's and Kim's names were on the account. He understood that this support was strictly voluntary, and he could stop paying it at any time.

In addition to these funds, Randy said that he had given Kim $100.00 at the beginning of the fall semester, that he contributed to various clothing purchases, and every few weeks he sent her a "care package" full of groceries and other essentials. He also claimed that he had bought a used car for Kim in 1985, for which he had paid approximately $3,000.00. Because Kim was a minor, he had placed the car in Joann's name and had given her the title. This used car had been used as a trade-in on the Hyundai Excel mentioned earlier. Randy testified that he had very little contact or visitation with either of his children, but he did not blame this on his ex-wife. He also stated that there were important decisions involving the children's health and finances that he would like to have been consulted on, although there didn't seem to be any decisions he particularly disagreed with.

The chancery court dismissed Joann Lawrence's motion to modify. In doing so it made the following findings:

The Court finds that the Plaintiff is bound by her agreement that support for the two minor children cease at age eighteen.

Page 1380

At the time the agreement was signed, it either was anticipated or should have been anticipated that one or both of these children would want to go to college and that there would be increased expenses at that point. Therefore, support for the twenty year old daughter terminated at age eighteen and no provision was made in the agreement for college.

The Court finds that there has been no material change in circumstances sufficient to warrant an increase in child support. There was almost no testimony about the increased costs for Ben, the son, and the additional education of the daughter, as previously mentioned, should have been anticipated.

The Court grants the stipulated portion of the counterclaim as follows: The parties shall exchange information with each other with regard to the minor child's education, grades, health and other similar matters, affecting the said child. The custodial parent shall have final authority on all decisions affecting the care of said child.

Joann Lawrence appeals from this judgment.

I. WHETHER AN AGREEMENT FOR CHILD SUPPORT TO CEASE AT AGE EIGHTEEN, PURSUANT TO AN AGREEMENT OF THE PARTIES WHICH WAS INCORPORATED INTO AND MADE A PART OF A FINAL DECREE OF DIVORCE ON THE GROUNDS OF...

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52 practice notes
  • Clardy v. ATS, Inc. Employee Welfare Benefit Plan, No. 1:95CV135-D-D.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
    • March 26, 1996
    ...This is true even between parent and child. "Parents cannot contract away rights vested in minor children." Lawrence v. Lawrence, 574 So.2d 1376, 1381 (Miss. 1991). Contracts by a parent which dispose of a child's right to support, for example, are void as a matter of Mississippi public pol......
  • Clardy v. ATS, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:95cv135-D-D (N.D. Miss. 3/__/1996), Civil Action No. 1:95cv135-D-D.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
    • March 1, 1996
    ...This is true even between parent and child. "[P]arents cannot contract away rights vested in minor children." Lawrence v. Lawrence, 574 So.2d 1376, 1381 (Miss. 1991). Contracts by a parent which dispose of a child's right to support, for example, are void as a matter of Mississippi public p......
  • Robertson v. Robertson, No. 2000-CA-00026-COA.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • January 16, 2001
    ...arising subsequently to the entry of the decree to be modified" to be awarded a modification of child support. Lawrence v. Lawrence, 574 So.2d 1376, 1380 (Miss.1991) (quoting Tedford v. Dempsey, 437 So.2d 410, 417 (Miss. 1983)). Certain factors should be considered in determining whether a ......
  • Powell v. Powell, No. 92-CA-00497
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • October 20, 1994
    ...is manifest error in findings of fact, or an abuse of discretion. Hammett v. Woods, 602 So.2d 825, 828 (Miss.1992); Lawrence v. Lawrence, 574 So.2d 1376 (Miss.1991). The party seeking modification must show a material change of circumstances of the father, mother, or children arising subseq......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
52 cases
  • Clardy v. ATS, Inc. Employee Welfare Benefit Plan, No. 1:95CV135-D-D.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
    • March 26, 1996
    ...This is true even between parent and child. "Parents cannot contract away rights vested in minor children." Lawrence v. Lawrence, 574 So.2d 1376, 1381 (Miss. 1991). Contracts by a parent which dispose of a child's right to support, for example, are void as a matter of Mississippi public pol......
  • Clardy v. ATS, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:95cv135-D-D (N.D. Miss. 3/__/1996), Civil Action No. 1:95cv135-D-D.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
    • March 1, 1996
    ...This is true even between parent and child. "[P]arents cannot contract away rights vested in minor children." Lawrence v. Lawrence, 574 So.2d 1376, 1381 (Miss. 1991). Contracts by a parent which dispose of a child's right to support, for example, are void as a matter of Mississippi public p......
  • Robertson v. Robertson, No. 2000-CA-00026-COA.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • January 16, 2001
    ...arising subsequently to the entry of the decree to be modified" to be awarded a modification of child support. Lawrence v. Lawrence, 574 So.2d 1376, 1380 (Miss.1991) (quoting Tedford v. Dempsey, 437 So.2d 410, 417 (Miss. 1983)). Certain factors should be considered in determining whether a ......
  • Powell v. Powell, No. 92-CA-00497
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • October 20, 1994
    ...is manifest error in findings of fact, or an abuse of discretion. Hammett v. Woods, 602 So.2d 825, 828 (Miss.1992); Lawrence v. Lawrence, 574 So.2d 1376 (Miss.1991). The party seeking modification must show a material change of circumstances of the father, mother, or children arising subseq......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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