Guam Supreme Court Ruling Will Have Big Impact on Child Support Law

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Guam –  The Supreme Court of Guam today published an opinion in the case of Darius P. Richardson v. Jean L. Richardson, which has major implications for the implementation of Guam’s child support laws. In an opinion authored by Chief Justice Robert J. Torres and concurred by Justice F. Phillip Carbullido and Justice Pro Tempore Richard H. Benson, the court determined that the Superior Court erred in granting an upward deviation from the 2008 Guam Child Support Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) based on “actual costs” without a factual finding that the children or their circumstances were significantly different from those of an average child, thereby warranting such modification. Because Guam’s Child Support Guidelines already include the costs of shelter, food, food away from home, utilities, clothing and transportation, the trial court should not have recalculated these expenses based on “actual costs” and should have followed the standard formula.

Darius and Jean have three children.  A 2008 Order denying Darius’ motion to recalculate previous child support arrears required Darius to pay $3,458.00 per month in child support and an additional $800.00 per child per month in private school tuition.  In arriving at the $3,458.00 figure, the Superior Court deviated from the 2008 Guidelines and also imputed certain income to Jean.  Darius appealed the Order.

Affirming in part and reversing in part the Superior Court’s Order, the Supreme Court found that the trial court did not properly apply the Guidelines but erred in imputing to Jean the income due a legal secretary.  The Court ruled further that the trial court correctly denied Darius’ appeal of his previous child support arrears because he failed to timely appeal the prior orders, but that assigning to Darius all of the costs of private school tuition was in error because those costs should have been added to the basic child support obligation and divided equally between the parents. The case was remanded to the Superior Court for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court’s opinion.

A copy of the Opinion may be found on the Supreme Court’s website at www.guamcourts.org/supreme.html.