These cases and results are not typical and cannot and should not be relied upon. Your situation will be different. They are demonstrative of the creative arguments raised which were successful on appeal.
A doctor from a rural Ohio county walked into my office one Friday morning and stated that his wife had moved to a large urban county some months ago and had recently filed for divorce in her county. His wife, who was unemployed, had moved to a county which historically awarded more spousal support and for a longer duration than the doctor’s home county. How could he keep from being divorced in the court selected by his wife?
As it turns out, the doctor became aware of his wife’s complaint because his professional practice was served with the divorce complaint, but not him personally, an important distinction.
What we did.
We immediately prepared the complaint for divorce and necessary accompanying documents to file in the doctor’s rural county, all while the doctor was in the office. We sent a courier the two hours to the doctor’s county, filed a divorce action there, and had the court appoint our process server to serve the wife, which he did that night.
Why that was the critical action?
Venue is the determination of which county is the appropriate county for a legal action, in this case, a divorce. There can be, and often are, more than one county where a divorce action between a particular couple is appropriate. When that is true, and divorce actions are filed in more than one county, the key is to be the first to serve the divorce papers on the other spouse.
The large urban county dismissed the wife’s divorce case, the rural county tried and decided the case, and the doctor saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in spousal support over the life of the award.
Many lawyers do not understand the distinction between venue and jurisdiction. Jurisdiction (generally what state is proper and what court is proper for a particular action) differs greatly from venue. The rules that apply to each are different for each. ;A keen understanding of the law is crucial to success. We put our knowledge and experience to work to protect our client’s interests.
Steve and Mary were never married, but Mary had Steve’s child. Steve wanted to be the exemplary father and to do the best he could for his new daughter. In that spirit, Steve agreed to pay child support to Mary at a high rate, to purchase a home in his nice suburban town for Mary and their child, and to provide Mary with an automobile.
In an effort to protect Steve in the future, the agreement provided that if child support were ever contested in the future, the court must consider the house and car given to Mary as if they were a stream of payments of child support that would last through their child’s minority.
Child support was contested several years later. At that time, the trial court felt that the prior agreement was unfair to the child and did not give Steve the credit for his prepayment of child support that he was entitled to in the prior order of the court. (Steve was to receive credit for the first $1,700 per month in child support; the trial court set Steve’s child support at $945. In so doing this, the trial court calculated support and then reduced the amount by 25% to compensate Steve for the house and car.)
What we did.
We appealed and won. The Appellate Court found that “… the trial court lacked authority to arbitrarily reduce the calculated amount by twenty-five percent to compensate Appellant for his provision of the home in Hudson. The parties already had a valid judgment entry that accounted for this amount. We find that the trial court’s failure to credit Appellant for the full $1700 was an abuse of discretion.”
Because Steve’s support amount fell below the prepaid amount of $1,700 per month, he had no further obligation to pay Mary a monthly amount for child support.
Dr. W, a successful veterinarian and animal surgeon, was divorced from our client, Beverly. Dr. W. was ordered to pay an amount in spousal support commensurate with his earnings, the lifestyle of the parties during the marriage, and other statutory factors.
After the divorce was granted, Dr. W left his Ohio and Pennsylvania veterinary practices and headed off to Florida to be a vet there. This was ill-advised as he did not meet with the economic success that he had here. Dr. W. moved the trial court for a reduction of his spousal support, citing his decreased earnings.
What we did.
We argued on Beverly’s behalf that Dr. W’s actions in moving to Florida were voluntary and that she should not suffer as a result of his bad business decisions. The trial court sided with Beverly and ruled that support would not be reduced. In so doing the court stated: “After a thorough review of the Transcript, this Court can only determine that the Defendant [Dr. W] recklessly and on his own lowered his income, which is no basis whatsoever for reduction in spousal support * * *.” Dr. W appealed.
The Court of Appeals ruled in Beverly’s favor.
“Certainly, this was not an involuntary reduction. The appellant reduced his income so that he could enhance his professional practice. The appellant was contemplating a move to Florida at the time that the separation agreement was executed. Voluntary reduction in income, though it might amount to a substantial change in circumstances, is not justification for a reduction in spousal support payments arising out of a separation agreement and final judgment of a trial court.”
Our client was married in Puerto Rico in 1975 and had two children. Shortly after the second child was born, the parties were divorced in Puerto Rico. The father was ordered to pay $1,300 per month in combined spousal and child support. He made some sporadic payments.
In 1984, the father entered medical school in New York and while there, petitioned that court to reduce his child support obligation, which the court did to $430 per month. He made some payments to our client.
The Court of Appeals found the following facts:
In 1990, the father to Ohio, and our client filed a petition in the Summit County Juvenile Court under R.C. Chapter 3115, Ohio’s Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (“URESA”). Pursuant to our client’s URESA petition, the juvenile court temporarily set child support at $1,000 per month effective September 1, 1992 and specifically stated that issues of past and current child support would be postponed until a later date. Once again, the father made some payments directly to our client.
In 1996, our client filed a motion with the Domestic Relations Division of the Summit County Court of Common Pleas requesting, in part, a judgment for support arrearages and interest based on the Puerto Rican support order. In response, the father filed a motion for enforcement of the New York USDL support order. The trial court eventually determined that the New York USDL support order modified the Puerto Rican support order. As such, the trial court calculated the support arrearage based primarily on the New York USDL support order and awarded our client a judgment for past-due child support in the sum of $4,416. Our client timely appealed to this Court.
What we argued.
On behalf of our client, we argued that neither New York nor Ohio had the authority to modify the original order from Puerto Rico, and that the arrearages had to be calculated based upon the original order of $1,300 per month.
The Court of Appeals agreed with us and reversed the trial court. This resulted in a determination that the actual arrearages were $142,716, plus interest.