Williams v. Williams, 123,395

CourtCourt of Appeals of Kansas
Writing for the CourtWARNER, J.
PartiesIn the Matter of Lanay Colene Williams, Appellee, v. Emmett Williams Jr., Appellant.
Docket Number123,395
Decision Date16 September 2022

In the Matter of Lanay Colene Williams, Appellee,
v.

Emmett Williams Jr., Appellant.

No. 123,395

Court of Appeals of Kansas

September 16, 2022


NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION

Appeal from Sedgwick District Court; LINDA KIRBY, judge.

Christopher J. Vinduska, of Klenda Austerman LLC, of Wichita, for appellant.

Julia A. Leth-Perez, of O'Hara &O'Hara LLC, of Wichita, for appellee.

Before WARNER, P.J., CLINE, J., and RACHEL L. PICKERING, District Judge, assigned.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

WARNER, J.

Kansas child-support obligations largely derive from the parents' incomes. To ensure these incomes are accurate, Kansas law requires parents to disclose any material changes in circumstances that could affect the amount of child support due. If a parent does not make these disclosures in a timely manner, courts may impose sanctions-both to put the children in the financial situation they would have enjoyed had the parent disclosed and to deter future nondisclosure or concealment.

1

This case illustrates why such sanctions may be appropriate. Emmett Williams failed to disclose a substantial increase in income during 2015, 2016, and 2017. When this nondisclosure came to light, the district court imposed sanctions equal to what Emmett should have paid in child support during that time. In doing so, the district court employed an extended-income formula, as his income exceeded the amount addressed by the Kansas Child Support Guidelines income schedules.

Emmett appeals, challenging both the district court's ability to impose those sanctions and the legality of the specific sanctions themselves. But district courts have broad discretion to craft appropriate sanctions, and the sanctions here are both permissible and reasonable. We thus affirm the court's ruling.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Lanay and Emmett Williams divorced in June 2012. At that time, Emmett worked as a salesperson, earning approximately $9,140 per month, while Lanay earned approximately $3,030 per month. Because Lanay retained residential custody of their two children, the divorce decree required Emmett to pay $2,000 per month in child support.

In early 2018, Emmett began working at a surgical center. Between his salary and other income, he earned about $4,230 per month. In April, Emmett filed a motion to modify his child-support obligation due to this decrease in income. About the same time, Lanay moved to modify the parties' parenting time.

During discovery on Emmett's motion, Lanay learned that Emmett had held a different sales job from late 2015 through 2017. In that position, which was subject to a two-year contract, Emmett received a $400,000 bonus and a guaranteed minimum monthly commission of approximately $20,830. He earned $358,750 in 2015, $395,500 in 2016, and $170,450 in 2017-considerably more than what he had earned when the

2

parties divorced and considerably more than his child-support payment had been calculated to reflect. Emmett had not previously informed Lanay of these changes.

The district court held a series of hearings on Emmett's and Lanay's respective motions. At a hearing on August 28, 2018, Lanay and Emmett agreed to a new child support amount. Emmett's counsel described this agreement at the hearing as involving "concessions . . . both ways regarding the parenting time issue and also regarding the motion to modify child support." The parties agreed that Emmett would continue to pay $2,000 per month to Lanay through September 1, 2018-three days after the hearing- and then his payment would be substantially reduced to reflect his current income. The parties also acknowledged that this change would reduce Emmett's proportional responsibility for the children's unreimbursed medical expenses. And Emmett agreed that Lanay could retain previous duplicate payments of $7,841.60.

During this hearing, the district court discussed the terms of the parties' agreement and memorialized that agreement into a court order. The court reserved consideration of one of Lanay's arguments-that Emmett was intentionally underemployed, and his prior income should thus be imputed to calculate his future support obligations-for a future hearing. There was no mention at this hearing or in the resulting order of sanctions.

After the August 2018 hearing, Lanay retained new counsel, and the case was reassigned to a different judge. The parties proceeded to litigate various other issues relating to parenting time that are not relevant to this appeal.

In February 2019, Lanay filed a motion captioned "Amended Motion for Review, to Impute [Emmett]'s Income for Child Support, for Sanctions, and for Attorney Fees." The motion primarily asserted-consistent with Lanay's position at the August 2018 hearing-that Emmett was intentionally underemployed and the court should impute Emmett's previous (and higher) income when calculating his current child-support

3

obligation. And the motion also noted that Emmett had not notified Lanay of his substantially higher income in 2015, 2016, and 2017 until after he filed his motion to reduce his child-support obligation in April 2018. The parties argued Lanay's motion at a hearing in April.

In May, the district court issued its initial ruling on the motion. The court denied Lanay's request to impute Emmett's past income to his current child-support obligation. But the court ordered that Emmett pay a sanction under Section V.B.2. of the Guidelines for his delay in disclosing his income from 2015, 2016, and 2017. (2022 Kan. S.Ct. R. at 132). The court's order did not determine the exact amount of this sanction; instead, the order directed the parties to calculate what Emmett's obligation would have been during 2015, 2016, and 2017 under the Guidelines' extended-income formula, and the sanction would reflect the difference between that amount and what Emmett had previously paid.

Emmett filed a motion to reconsider, correctly noting that the court's May 2019 order included a factual misstatement that Lanay did not have information relating to Emmett's income at the August 2018 hearing. (In reality, she had received that information in May 2018 during discovery on Emmett's motion to modify child support.) Emmett also argued that Lanay should be precluded from seeking a sanction now, based on the language of the August 2018 order or on preclusion principles. And Emmett characterized the court's sanctions as effectively retrospective child support, asserting that Lanay could not receive those child-support adjustments because she did not comply with certain filing and notice requirements for modifying child support.

The court held a hearing on Emmett's motion to reconsider and confirmed its earlier sanctions order. The court observed that the factual misstatement in its previous order did not alter its conclusion that sanctions were appropriate. To reach that conclusion, the court engaged in a "comprehensive review of the application of the law and the [G]uidelines to the facts."

4

In particular, the court noted that although the August 2018 order resolved the amount of child support owed through the end of 2018, Kansas courts have long recognized that child support is different from court-ordered sanctions. And nothing in the August 2018 order altered the court's authority to sanction a person's delay in disclosing material changes of income. To illustrate this point, the court pointed out that courts do not have jurisdiction to modify child-support payments that were previously due. Instead, Kansas law only allows the court to modify child-support obligations beginning at least a month after a party has moved to modify those obligations. This means that-as a result of Emmett's failure to disclose his higher income in 2015, 2016, and 2017 until May 2018-the court did not have the ability to modify those support obligations in August 2018 (or later). And the clear language of the August 2018 order indicated that it related to "amounts owed by either party to the other party for child support through June 26, 2018."

Emmett filed a second motion to reconsider. He now argued that using the extended-income formula would provide Lanay a windfall because the August 2018 order already paid Lanay more than what Emmett technically owed. He also asserted the court could not use the extended-income formula to calculate "other sanction[s]" because that section was reserved for attorney fees, and he claimed that the court failed to make adequate factual findings to support its ruling.

After yet another hearing, the court found that its sanctions award was reasonable and proper under the circumstances. After accounting for parenting credits and other amounts paid, the court ultimately ordered Emmett to pay $64,737.20 in sanctions, calculated using the extended-income formula and including $1,435 in attorney fees. Emmett appeals.

5

DISCUSSION

Kansas law requires courts in divorce cases to "make provisions for the support and education of [any] minor children." K.S.A. 2021 Supp. 23-3001(a). The amount of child support due is determined through applying the Guidelines. K.S.A. 2021 Supp. 23-3002(a). While this amount takes into account several circumstances, it is primarily based on the parents' incomes.

Once a court has ordered child support in a particular case, its discretion to modify the parties' child-support obligations is limited in at least two important ways. First, in the first three years after a court orders child support, that support cannot be altered unless there has been "a material change in circumstances." K.S.A. 2021 Supp. 23-3005(a); see also Guidelines § V. (2022 Kan. S.Ct. R. at 131) (providing guidance on change in circumstances). After three years have lapsed, this showing is not necessary. Second, and most notable for purposes of this case, the court may modify child-support obligations starting on the first day of the month following...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT