Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 93-3-06227-7. Date filed: 12/27/95. Judge signing: Hon. Michael J. Fox.
PER CURIAM. Cynthia Ristow-Dunham appeals a child support order modifying an earlier order reached by agreement with her ex-husband, Dale Johnson. Finding no error in the court's reduction of the father's support obligation because of reduced income, we affirm. *fn1
Ristow-Dunham and Johnson were divorced in 1987. The matter before this court concerns a 1986 separation agreement and two subsequent orders of modification.
The parties entered into a separation agreement in 1986 under which Johnson was to pay $200 per month for each of the two children, Myra and Charles. The agreement also awarded the family home to Johnson and provided that Johnson would use 50 percent of the net profits to establish an educational fund for the children.
In 1993 a settlement agreement and order modifying the previous order were entered in King County Superior Court. Among the reasons for modification, the order listed the need to set postsecondary educational support for the children. Under the terms of the 1993 order, Johnson paid $596 per month per child, for a total of $1,193, which exceeded the standard calculation amount. The order stated that parties had agreed to this amount in lieu of setting up the educational trust fund previously ordered.
A few months after entry of the modification order, Johnson sold his house, reporting a substantial capital gain on the sale, and in 1995 he moved into a new home.
In June 1995, Johnson petitioned for modification of child support on the basis that he had been laid off his job and his income was reduced by approximately half. At the time the petition was filed, Myra was almost 19 years old and was planning to enter college that fall. Charles was 17.
The trial court granted the motion for modification, listing as reasons the need for postsecondary educational support of the children and a substantial change in circumstances arising from Johnson's loss of his job and resulting decreased income. The court reasoned that Johnson should be given partial relief from the 1993 agreement because the reduction in his income was unforeseen. The new support order provided for $450 per month for Myra and $346 per month for Charles, the latter representing the standard amount on the family support schedule for families with two children.
Ristow-Dunham challenges the 1995 order.
Citing only general equitable principles, Ristow-Dunham contends the trial court erred in reducing the amount of postsecondary educational support for Myra. She relies on the 1993 agreement, which allowed Johnson to keep the house in exchange for his promise to pay $596 per month for Myra's postsecondary support. She contends his support payments were based on his retention of the property, not his income. Consequently, she argues, reduction of support is unfair because there was no change in his ability to use, sell, or refinance the property, and in fact he did sell the property at a considerable profit. Ristow-Dunham further points out that when the amount of Myra's support was reduced, Ristow-Dunham lost the benefit of her bargain to give up her share of the property in 1987 in exchange for Johnson's agreement to set up an education trust fund with half of the proceeds of the sale of the property.
Ristow-Dunham's argument fails to show that the court erred. She concedes the court has authority under RCW 26.09.170 to modify child support orders. Under that statute, a substantial change in circumstances is one of the grounds for modifying support. Courts may modify support provisions even when the payments were provided for in an agreement between the parties. Fleckenstein v. Fleckenstein, 59 Wash. 2d 131, 132, 366 P.2d 688 (1961). This court will not overturn a trial court's decision on an order modifying child support absent a manifest abuse of discretion. In re Marriage of Booth, 114 Wash. 2d 772, 779, 791 P.2d 519 (1990).
Ristow-Dunham's argument that the court should not take into consideration Johnson's income is contrary to the whole statutory scheme of child support, which is based on the parents' combined income. RCW 26.19.020, .080. Specifically with regard to postsecondary educational support, RCW 26.19.090 directs the court to consider the parents' resources as well as other factors.
Here, in setting the new level of postsecondary support, the court entered an unchallenged finding of fact that Johnson's job loss and reduced income constituted a substantial change in circumstances. The court acknowledged the 1993 agreement but found that the father's decline in income was not foreseen when he entered into the agreement. Given that a substantial change in circumstances is a statutory basis for modification and that income is one ...