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In re Marriage of Schultz

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

July 20, 2017

In re the Marriage of: GUS T. SCHULTZ, Petitioner/Appellee,
v.
TARYN C. SCHULTZ, Respondent/Appellant.

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. FC2012-090815 The Honorable Stephen M. Hopkins, Judge

          McWhorter Law Firm PLLC, Mesa By Heath H. McWhorter Counsel for Petitioner/Appellee

          Law Office of Joel L. Brand, Phoenix By Joel L. Brand Counsel for Respondent/Appellant

          Judge Jon W. Thompson delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Randall M. Howe and Judge Lawrence F. Winthrop joined.

          OPINION

          THOMPSON, Judge.

         ¶1 Taryn C. Schultz (Mother) appeals from an order crediting Gus T. Schultz (Father) for spousal maintenance payments he made directly to Mother instead of through the Support Payment Clearinghouse (Clearinghouse). For the reasons stated below, we affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Pursuant to the parties' consent decree of legal separation, which was later converted to a decree of dissolution, Father was obligated to pay $3, 000 a month in spousal maintenance to Mother for three years. After Father fell behind in his spousal maintenance obligation, Mother filed a petition for contempt re: nonpayment of support. Mother alleged Father owed $35, 000 in spousal maintenance arrearages. Father acknowledged that he was behind in his obligation but argued he should receive credit for the payments he made directly to Mother that were not shown on the Clearinghouse statements. Father provided copies of cancelled checks Mother cashed between June 2012 and January 2013 totaling $18, 210. Mother did not deny receiving these payments, but argued Father was not entitled to credit for these direct payments pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) § 46-441(H) (2017), [1] which states: "Payment of any money directly to an obligee or to a person other than the support payment Clearinghouse shall not be credited against the support obligation unless the direct payments were ordered by the court, or made pursuant to a written support agreement by the parties."

         ¶3 The trial court concluded Father was entitled to credit for the direct payments despite the language in A.R.S. § 46-441(H) because: (1) the parties' consent decree constituted a written agreement and did not specify that payments could not be made directly, and (2) Mother failed to assert this statutory defense when she accepted Father's direct payments as support. Finding "Mother's hyper-technical argument" was unreasonable in light of the fact that she did not dispute the payments, the court awarded Father $1025 in attorneys' fees. Mother filed a timely notice of appeal, and we have jurisdiction pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-2101(A)(1)(2017).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Direct Payment of Spousal Maintenance

         ¶4 Mother argues the trial court erred by ignoring the mandatory language in A.R.S. § 46-441(B) and (H) that precludes the court from crediting an obligor for support payments made directly to the obligee absent a court order or written agreement. Father contends the court's ruling is supported by A.R.S. § 25-510(G) (2017), which provides:

Any direct payments not paid though the Clearinghouse or any equitable credits of principal or interest permitted by law and allowed by the court after a hearing shall be applied to support arrearages as directed in the court order. The court shall make specific findings in support of any payments or credits allowed.

         We review issues of statutory interpretation de novo. Clark v. Clark,239 Ariz. 281, 282, ¶ 6, 37 ...


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