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In re Marriage of Kelly

April 21, 1997


Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 83-3-02486-6. Date filed: 10/02/95. Judge signing: Hon. Donald Haley.

Petition for Review Denied October 7, 1997,

Authored by H. Joseph Coleman. Concurring: C. Kenneth Grosse, Ronald E. Cox.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coleman

COLEMAN, J. -- Kenneth Hannan appeals a superior court order modifying his obligation to support his daughter, Miranda. Although Miranda's mother filed the modification petition while Miranda was a minor, Hannan argues that the court erred by failing to require Miranda's joinder when she became an adult because she then became a necessary party. The court ordered that Hannan's monthly support payments be increased retroactively to the date of filing. In addition, the court ordered that Hannan pay 57.3 percent of Miranda's postsecondary educational expenses. Hannan argues that the court erred by not imposing a monetary cap on this postsecondary obligation. He also argues that the court erred by ordering him to reimburse the mother twice for her college expenditures in both the retroactive support and the postsecondary support orders. Hannan additionally claims that the court erred by failing to expressly require Miranda or her mother to contribute to the college expenses.

We hold that the court had jurisdiction to modify Hannan's child support obligation because Miranda did not become a necessary party when she turned eighteen. Because the obligation to pay a percentage of a child's educational costs is directly related to the child's needs, we also hold that no monetary cap was required. Hannan has failed to show that the trial court abused its discretion by overlapping his obligations. Except for a minor mathematical error, we affirm the modification order in its entirety.

Hannan and Cheryl Kelly dissolved their marriage on July 8, 1983. The decree awarded custody of their six-year-old daughter, Miranda, to Kelly. It also provided that Hannan pay $210 per month in child support "until the child has reached the age of eighteen or is sooner emancipated." Miranda subsequently excelled in high school, earning a 3.76 cumulative grade point average. In 1994, she was accepted for admission to Washington State University as an undergraduate.

In May 1995, Kelly filed a petition for support modification and postsecondary educational support. While the action was pending, Miranda turned eighteen and began her studies at WSU. In October 1995, the court found that Hannan's support obligation should be modified for the following reasons:

[x] The previous Order was entered more than two years ago and there has been a change in the income of the parents.

[x] Miranda Hannan is in need of post-secondary educational support because the child is in fact dependent and is relying upon the parents for the reasonable necessities of life.

[x] There has been the following substantial change of circumstances since the Order was entered: Miranda was only 6 years old at the time of the Decree and now has aged and entered into college with a high GPA and graduated with honors from high school. Miranda's ability and aptitude for college could not have been known when she was 6 and this represents a substantial change of circumstance. The court retroactively increased Hannan's monthly child support obligation to $462.95 from the date the petition was filed through August 1995. The court thus entered a $1,136.85 judgment against Hannan for back child support.

In addition, the court modified the original child support order by ordering Hannan to contribute 57.3 percent of Miranda's college expenses:

The parents shall pay for the post secondary educational support of the child. Post secondary support provisions are that the obligor/father shall pay 57.3% of tuition, room & board, class fees, lab fees, books, transportation, health fees, hall dues, health insurance, lobby fees, copy costs, and school supplies. The child shall take out the Stafford loan granted to her. Additionally, the child shall make effort to obtain summer employment and her earnings are to be applied to her costs of attending college. She shall keep both parents fully informed of her grades, earnings from employment and efforts to obtain scholarships and grants. . . . . Miranda must stay enrolled as a full-time student and be actively pursuing a course of study and must remain in good academic standing. The father's obligation shall terminate upon the child's 23rd birthday and may be suspended at any time the child is not in compliance with the requirements of this order. Miranda Hannan shall apply for scholarship grants and student loans. She shall take out student loans offered to her each year up to 10% of the total cost of her education. The parent's contribution shall be after Miranda Hannan's earnings, scholarships, grants, and loans.

No ceiling was placed on Hannan's postsecondary obligation. The court found that Kelly had already paid $2,863.15 for Miranda's tuition, fees, deposits, summer orientation, room and board, linens, and books. In ordering Hannan to reimburse Kelly for his 57.3 percent share of these expenditures, the court entered judgment against Hannan for $1,690.58. As Hannan correctly points out, this was a mathematical error--57.3 percent of $2,863.15 is $1,640.58. We thus reduce this judgment by $50.

We must first decide whether the lower court lost its jurisdiction to modify child support because Miranda became a necessary party when she reached majority. Subject matter jurisdiction is a broad concept that courts will find absent only in "compelling circumstances, such as when it is explicitly limited by the Legislature or Congress." In re Major, 71 Wash. App. 531, 534, 859 P.2d 1262 (1993). Under the dissolution of marriage act, the superior court sits as a "family court" to adjudicate "the rights of the parties or their children regarding the determination or modification of . . . support[.]" RCW 26.12.010. Because of the court's broad grant of jurisdiction over support ...

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