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In re Marriage of Nash

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division, Department C

July 23, 2013

In re the Marriage of: STEPHEN JOHN NASH, Petitioner/Appellee,
ALEJANDRA AMARILLA NASH, Respondent/Appellant.

Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County Cause No. FC2010-007378 The Honorable Thomas L. LeClaire, Judge

Dickinson Wright/Mariscal Weeks PLLC, Robert L. Schwartz Steven D. Wolfson Anne L. Tiffen Attorneys for Petitioner/Appellee

Hallier & Lawrence, PLC, Angela K. Hallier And Jones, Skelton & Hochuli, P.L.C. By Eileen Dennis GilBride Attorneys for Respondent/Appellant



¶1 This is an appeal from a child-support order entered in the dissolution of a marriage of two persons of considerable wealth. We hold the superior court in such a case may not limit child support to an amount required to meet the children's minimal needs. To the contrary, child support should permit the children of such a marriage to continue to enjoy the reasonable benefits they had while their parents were married. Because the superior court did not apply this principle, we vacate and remand its child-support order. Addressing two post-decree orders also at issue on appeal, we affirm an order prohibiting the parents from posting disparaging remarks about each other on social media, but vacate a sua sponte order barring the parents from disclosing any document or information in any document filed in the proceeding.[1]


¶2 Stephen John Nash ("Father") and Alejandra Amarilla Nash ("Mother") married in 2005. In 2010, when Father filed for dissolution, the parties had an infant son and two six-year-old daughters. Although the parties resolved issues of custody and parenting time by agreement, they could not agree on child support, and the superior court held a one-day trial on the issue.

¶3 The parties jointly asked the court to close the trial to the public, and it did so. Shortly after the court issued its judgment and decree, it reiterated a prior sua sponte order that sealed all proceedings and sua sponte ordered that "[d]ocuments, records, and transcripts sealed by the Court, and information contained in the sealed material, may not be disseminated to any third party without an Order of the Court." The court also affirmed a parenting coordinator's report that rebuked Mother for "tweeting" a negative remark about Father and declared that she "must stop" using social media to disparage him.

¶4 We consolidated Mother's timely appeals of the decree and the post-trial orders. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Article 6, Section 9, of the Arizona Constitution, and Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") sections 12-120.21(A)(1) (West 2013) and -2101(A)(1), (2) (West 2013).[2]


A. Child Support.

1. Legal principles.

¶5 "[W]e will not disturb a court's award of child support absent an abuse of discretion." Hetherington v. Hetherington, 220 Ariz. 16, 21, 21, 202 P.3d 481, 486 (App. 2008). We will accept the court's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous, but we draw our own legal conclusions from facts found or implied in the judgment. McNutt v. McNutt, 203 Ariz. 28, 30, 6, 49 P.3d 300, 302 (App. 2002).

¶6 Pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-320(A) (West 2013), the superior court "may order either or both parents owing a duty of support to a child . . . to pay an amount reasonable and necessary for support of the child." In subpart (D) of the same statute, the legislature directed the supreme court to "establish guidelines for determining the amount of child support." A.R.S. § 25-320(D). The result is the Arizona Child Support Guidelines ("Guidelines"), Appendix to A.R.S. § 25-320 (West 2013). Id. "The amount resulting from the application of [the] guidelines is the amount of child support ordered unless a written finding is made, based on criteria approved by the supreme court, that application of the guidelines would be inappropriate or unjust in a particular case." A.R.S. § 25-320(D).

¶7 The Guidelines establish a framework for determining the amount of child support "consistent with the reasonable needs of children and the ability of parents to pay." Guidelines, § 1. The premise of the Guidelines is the Income Shares Model, which itself is based on two principles: (1) "The total child support amount approximates the amount that would have been spent on the children if the parents and children were living together, " and (2) "Each parent contributes his/her proportionate share of the total child support amount." Id., Background.

¶8 Attached to the Guidelines is a "Schedule of Basic Support Obligation" ("Schedule"), which sets out presumptive amounts of child support, called the "Basic Child Support Obligation, " derived from the parents' combined gross incomes.[3] As the parents' combined gross income increases, so does the presumptive Basic Child Support Obligation. The highest combined income in the Schedule is $20, 000 per month. If the parents' combined gross income exceeds $20, 000 per month, the presumptive Basic Child Support Obligation is that identified for a combined income of $20, 000 per month. Id. §§ 2(G)(2), 8. A parent may request an "upward deviation" from the presumptive Basic Child Support Obligation by showing that a higher amount is in the best interests of the child. Id. § 8.

¶9 As applicable here, after determining the Basic Child Support Obligation from the Schedule, the superior court then must add to that figure "the cost of the children's medical, dental and/or vision insurance coverage, if any" and also may add childcare costs "appropriate to the parents' financial abilities" and "reasonable and necessary" education expenses "when such expenses are incurred by agreement of both parents or ordered by the court." Id. § 9(A), (B)(1), (2). Except in the event of a court-ordered deviation, the resulting sum is the "Total Child Support Obligation, " for which the parents share responsibility in proportion to their respective gross incomes. Id. § 10.[4]

2. The court's calculation and division of the Total Child Support Obligation.

¶10 Pursuant to the Schedule, when, as here, the parents' combined monthly gross income is $20, 000 a month or more, the Basic Child Support Obligation for three children is $2, 795. As noted above, to this amount, the court must add certain medical and dental expenses (and may add childcare and education expenses) to derive the Total Child Support Obligation.

¶11 The decree in this case acknowledges the children's monthly medical and dental insurance expenses of $1, 314 and education expenses of $1, 750, and, according to the record, monthly childcare expenses were $2, 000. But the record does not show that the court added those amounts to the Basic Child Support Obligation, as the Guidelines require. The child support worksheet the court completed did not take into account any of those expenses. Instead, the worksheet endorsed the presumptive Basic Child Support Obligation ...

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