Mehra v. Mehra

Citation819 S.W.2d 351
Decision Date19 November 1991
Docket NumberNo. 73748,73748
PartiesSubodh K. MEHRA, Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Respondent, v. Rachna MEHRA, Plaintiff-Respondent-Cross-Appellant.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Mark S. Corman, Clayton, Christopher Karlen, St. Louis, Edward K. Fehlig, Clayton, for defendant-appellant-cross-respondent.

Robert F. Summers, Theresa Counts Burke, St. Louis, for plaintiff-respondent-cross-appellant.


In this dissolution proceeding, both husband (Subodh K. Mehra) and wife (Rachna Mehra) appeal from the trial court's decree. The parties were married in India in 1973, and their two daughters, Shaila, now 16, and Anjali, now 8, were born in the United States. The parties are physicians, licensed to practice in Missouri, with a combined monthly income of $19,395.00 at the time of trial.

The trial court appointed the Honorable Franklin Ferriss as Master and accepted his recommended Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. We granted transfer from the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, to examine the application of the Missouri child support guidelines to monthly incomes in excess of $10,000. Applying the standards of Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976), we must sustain the trial court's decree unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the law. Further, we defer to the factfinder's determinations of credibility, viewing the evidence and permissible inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the decree, disregarding all contrary evidence and inferences. Wynn v. Wynn, 738 S.W.2d 915, 918 (Mo.App.1987); Ware v. Ware, 647 S.W.2d 582, 583-84 (Mo.App.1983).

Child Custody

Husband first contests the trial court's award of legal custody to the wife and temporary custody with visitation rights to him, contending the court should have awarded joint legal custody pursuant to § 452.375.3, RSMo Supp.1988. This subsection, added in 1988, reads as follows:

The general assembly finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state to assure children frequent and meaningful contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage, and that it is in the public interest to encourage parents to share decision-making rights and responsibilities of child-rearing. In order to effectuate this policy, the court shall determine the custody arrangement which will best assure that parents share such decision-making responsibility and authority and such frequent and meaningful contact between the child and each parent, as is indicated in the best interests of the child under all the relevant circumstances (emphasis supplied).

However, this amendment was not in effect at the time the petition in this case was filed on October 26, 1987, and is therefore inapplicable here. In re Marriage of Ross, 772 S.W.2d 890, 892 (Mo.App.1989).

Nonetheless, assuming arguendo the amendment is applicable, child custody must be determined in accordance with "the best interests of child," § 452.375.2, RSMo Supp.1988, see also § 452.375.2, RSMo 1986 (containing the same criterion), and we do not find the trial court's judgment erroneous in this respect. The statutes do not limit the discretion of the trial court to reject joint custody, and the court found that the wife has been "the primary influence in both daughters' lives" and that her parenting decisions often conflict with those of the husband. In his testimony husband admitted a difficulty in communicating with his wife regarding the children. Imperative to the best interests of the child in a joint custody arrangement are "[t]he commonality of beliefs concerning parental decisions and the ability of the parents to cooperate and function as a parental unit." Massman v. Massman, 749 S.W.2d 717, 720 (Mo.App.1988). "Unless [parental] guidance has some uniformity it may well be worse than no guidance at all." Lipe v. Lipe, 743 S.W.2d 601, 602 (Mo.App.1988). This first point is denied. 1

Child Support

We find merit, however, in husband's challenge to the trial court's child support award. The court based its award on the Missouri Child Support Guideline Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations as applied by the Circuit Court of St. Louis County. This schedule, based on the Income Shares Model developed by the National Center for State Courts, was prepared by the Missouri Child Support Guidelines Task Force, funded by the Missouri Bar Association Family Law Section and the Missouri Department of Social Services, and was first published at 735-736 S.W.2d Missouri Cases, p. XL, in 1987. Pursuant to the direction of the legislature, § 452.340.7, RSMo Supp.1989, the schedule has since been adopted as Form 14 of our Rules, coincident with Rule 88.01, on October 2, 1989, and made mandatory as of April 1, 1990. The schedule sets forth the amount of child support as a proportion of the combined gross monthly income of the parents. At $100 monthly income, the basic child support for two children is thirty-seven percent of income, and though with each $100 increase in monthly income, the amount of child support increases, the percentage ratio of "support-to-income" decreases steadily to 15.5 percent when it reaches $8400. For monthly incomes from $8400 through $10,000 the support percentage is 15.5 percent, and the schedule ends at the $10,000 monthly income level with $1,550 in child support for two children. 2 This case presents the important question of interpreting these guidelines when the parties have a monthly income in excess of $10,000.

The trial court, finding the parties' combined gross monthly income to be $19,395, made a straight line extrapolation of the 15.5 percent ratio and calculated the children's support at $3000 per month ($19,935 X .155 = $3,006.23), with husband to pay 65.6 percent of this amount and wife to pay the remainder. We interpret the schedule differently. Court-ordered child support, as provided by statute, is to be an amount "reasonable or necessary" for support of the child, § 452.340, RSMo 1986, "and not to provide an accumulation of capital." Heins v. Heins, 783 S.W.2d 481, 483 (Mo.App.1990), which must be balanced against the parents' ability to pay and the family's standard of living. See Wynn v. Wynn, 738 S.W.2d 915, 919 (Mo.App.1987); Wiesbusch v. Deke, 762 S.W.2d 521, 523 (Mo.App.1988) Reed v. Reed, 775 S.W.2d 326, 330 (Mo.App.1989); Pursifull v. Pursifull, 781 S.W.2d 262, 264 (Mo.App.1989); In re Marriage of Cope, 805 S.W.2d 303, 308 (Mo.App.1991); § 452.340(3), (4), and (6), RSMo 1986. Further statutory factors for consideration are "[t]he father's primary responsibility for support of his child," § 452.340(1), "[t]he financial resources of the child," § 452.340(2), and "[t]he physical and emotional condition of the child, and his educational needs." Section 452.340(5). The amounts indicated on the schedule are but a presumption of the proper level of support, given the monthly income of the parties, and we find the trial court's mode of extrapolation beyond the confines of the schedule unjustified in the absence of any specific finding that the $1550 figure is unjust or inappropriate. Further, the record does not reflect how the court determined husband must pay $800 per month towards the children's "special needs," which include private educational expenses of $1,133.33 per month. Accordingly, we remand the cause for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 3

Valuation of Southside Medical Group, P.C. and Office Condominium

The parties founded Southside Medical Group, P.C., their medical practice, in 1981, and leased to the corporation an office condominium on Mackenzie Road. At the time of trial, husband held 90 shares of stock in Southside and wife held 10. Husband was awarded the condominium and all shares in Southside, but he complains the court erred in overvaluing the property thus awarded to him.

Gerald Magruder, the wife's expert, testified regarding the value of the Southside medical practice, and the husband contends Magruder was incompetent to testify as to the value of the equipment. This contention is not well taken. Magruder testified he had visited Southside to examine the equipment in question and was familiar with the secondhand market for medical equipment, having valued used equipment in connection with the sale of medical practices. The qualifications of a witness to render an expert opinion lie within the trial court's discretion, Tharp v. Oberhellman, 527 S.W.2d 376, 379 (Mo.App.1975), and we find no abuse of discretion on the record here. Further, we do not find that the court's valuation of X-ray and computer equipment leased to the corporation by husband, based on Magruder's testimony is against the weight of the evidence or unsupported by substantial evidence.

In valuing the Mackenzie Condominium, the trial court apparently accepted the $180,000 valuation, including "leasehold improvements," given in wife's First Amended Statement of Property, leaving a net equity of $28,000 in light of the $152,000 mortgage on the property. Husband contests this valuation, arguing the market value of the property is $125,000 with balance of $154,000 due on the mortgage, leaving no market value at all. Husband and wife, as owners of the property, were both competent to testify as to its value, Schulze v. C & H Builders, 761 S.W.2d 219, 223 (Mo.App.1988), and we are obliged to defer to the factfinder's determination of credibility, Wynn v. Wynn, 738 S.W.2d at 918, which weighed in favor of the wife.

Husband finally complains leasehold improvements were improperly counted in valuing both the condominium and the medical practice. The trial court awarded husband the condominium, "together with all leasehold improvements thereto," and set its fair market value at $180,000. In valuing the assets held by the medical practice, the court included $28,000...

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