Leitgeb v. LeitgebAnnotate this Case
The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's consideration centered on the circumstances a child support order could compel an obligor parent whose income was below the self-support reserve to make monthly payments toward outstanding arrearages on a child support surcharge. Father appealed pro se a family court order affirming a magistrate’s decision to deny his motion to modify a child support order that related solely to outstanding arrearages owed for surcharges. He argued that because his limited income from social security disability benefits was below the self-support reserve, he should not have been ordered to make $50 monthly payments toward outstanding surcharges. The magistrate considered the possibility of reducing or eliminating father’s monthly payment obligation, as opposed to discharging the underlying judgment. The magistrate noted that father’s living circumstances had changed on account of a recent divorce and that his income had fallen. However, the magistrate found that his modest monthly income was still sufficient to meet his modest expenses and allow him to continue paying $50 per month toward his surcharge arrearages. In addition, the magistrate found that father’s consistent payment of the $50 per month over the course of years supported the finding that he was, in fact, able to afford the payment. For these reasons, the magistrate declined to reduce father’s monthly surcharge arrearage payment. The statute relating to computation of a parent’s support obligation provided that if a noncustodial parent’s available income is less than the self-support reserve, the court shall use its discretion in determining support and shall require payment of a nominal support amount. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The magistrate made no findings that mother had shown good cause why the payment of arrears should be ordered notwithstanding father’s monthly income below the self-support reserve. Nor did the magistrate make any findings from which we might infer a determination of good cause, such as a finding that, notwithstanding his low monthly income, father has access to significant assets, or a finding that for some other reason this case was extraordinary.