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Consent Order Did Not Control Child Support

Although the parties’ consent order included a detailed revision of their custody arrangement, provided for payment of GAL fees and stated that “all other provisions” of the final divorce and the PSA “not inconsistent” with the consent order would remain in effect, the Court of Appeals agrees with husband that the trial court erred in holding the consent order required the father to continue paying $2,000 in monthly child support.

The consent order did not preclude father from seeking a modification of child support based on his reduced income. The trial court found the parties had not experienced a material change in circumstances since the August 2010 consent order. If father reaffirmed his child support obligations in the consent order of Aug. 26, 2010, he is precluded from litigating them anew in April of 2011. If, however, the Aug. 26, 2010 order addresses custody only and does not represent a ratification of the child support agreement entered in 2009, father may seek to modify his child support obligation based on a change in circumstances.

Ordinarily a trial court’s interpretation of its own orders is entitled to deference on appeal. Consent orders, however, are treated differently.

The part of the consent order that addresses custody deals solely with the children’s schooling. When viewed in terms of the parties’ objective of resolving a conflict over which school the children would attend for the academic year 2010-2011, and interpreted as a whole, the consent order does not support an interpretation that the parties intended to reaffirm child support obligations. That matter simply was neither in contention between the parties nor before the court.

Mother initiated this round of litigation by filing a motion to modify child custody and visitation. The order reinstating the case on the docket did so for the purpose of arguing the petition to modify child custody and visitation. Likewise, father’s motion to modify visitation referenced visitation only. None of these pleadings mentions child support. Had the court and the parties intended to make a determination of child support in the Aug. 26, 2010 order, one would expect to see in the record findings and notices required by Va. Code § 20-60.3 as well as a child support guideline worksheet.

We reverse and remand for further proceedings on father’s motion to modify child support.

Reversed and remanded.

Burns v. Burns (McCullough) No. 0359-12-4, Nov. 20, 2012; Frederick County Cir.Ct. (Wetsel) Peter W. Buchbauer for appellant; Ian R.D. Williams for appellee. VLW 012-7-322(UP), 8 pp.

 

 

VLW 012-7-322

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