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Dunwoody v. Dunwoody

Supreme Court of Maine

January 26, 2017

JANICE W. DUNWOODY
v.
STEVEN M. DUNWOODY

          Submitted On Briefs: November 29, 2016

          Timothy E. Robbins, Esq., South Portland, for appellant Steven M. Dun woody

          Susan Schultz McEvoy, Esq., for appellee Janice W. Dunwoody

          Panel: SAUFLEY. C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          SAUFLEY, C.J.

         [¶l] Steven M. Dunwoody appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Portland, Powers, J.) adopting the decision of the Family Law Magistrate [Najahan, M.) over Steven's objection. The magistrate granted Steven's request to modify child support but denied his request for a declaration that he did not owe any past due support. Steven argues on appeal that the magistrate should have determined that he had prevailed on at least one equitable defense to any attempt to collect child support arrearages. We affirm the judgment.

          I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] Steven M. Dunwoody and Janice W. Dunwoody were divorced by a judgment dated November 13, 2001. Steven, who receives disability benefits, [1]was ordered to pay child support pursuant to three orders covering different periods of time, apparently due to anticipated changes in the parties' incomes.

         [¶3] Steven has never directly paid child support, but the children received dependent benefits based on Steven's disability. At some times, the dependent benefits paid to the children exceeded the amount of child support ordered by the court, and at other times there was a deficiency. During the period when Steven's support obligation exceeded the disability benefits, the cumulative deficiency was $21, 978. Both parties assumed that because the children were receiving dependent disability benefits, Steven did not have to make any child support payments himself.

         [¶4] Sometime before February 19, 2014, Janice applied for child support enforcement services from the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department issued a notice of debt. On June 24, 2014, Steven filed a motion in the District Court seeking a modification of his child support obligation and a declaration that he did not owe any arrearages. See M.R. Civ. P. 120(a). He argued that he was entitled to a credit against any past due child support for the period during which the dependent disability benefits exceeded his monthly child support obligation. Steven alleged that during this period, the dependent disability payments exceeded his obligation by a total of $33, 000. In the alternative, Steven argued that the equitable defenses of laches, waiver, and equitable estoppel precluded Janice from collecting any past due child support.

         [¶5] The magistrate issued an order on December 22, 2015, granting Steven's motion to modify child support, but denying his request for a declaration that he did not owe past support. The magistrate concluded that

         (1)the child support statutes precluded crediting the excess of the dependent disability benefits over his support obligation against his past due support and

         (2) the undisputed facts did not generate any equitable defenses. The order established that Steven owed $21, 978 in past due child support.

         [¶6] Steven filed a timely objection to the magistrate's final judgment on January 8, 2016. See M.R. Civ. P. 118(a). The District Court entered an order adopting the magistrate's judgment on February 2, 2016. Steven timely appealed. Se ...


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