Facts: Mother and Father, the parents of two children, divorced in 2011. Mother would have been ordered to pay $773 per month for child support, but the child-support worksheet provided a downward deviation to zero dollars because of Mother’s agreement to “take responsibility for [the children’s] college education fund.” The worksheet included this comment:
Child support will not be necessary. Neither party wishes to accept money from the other parent.
Mother never paid child support; however, she made payments to the children’s college savings account.
Five years later, Mother petitioned to change custody. Father responded with a counterpetition to hold Mother in contempt for failing to pay child support.
At the hearing, Mother voluntarily dismissed her petition. Father was awarded over $59,000 in retroactive child support plus $8500 in attorney’s fees.
Mother filed a Rule 60.02 motion to declare the trial court’s order void. Her motion was denied.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.
A final judgment may be set aside under Rule 60.02 on the grounds of mistake, surprise, excusable neglect, misrepresentation, the judgment is void, etc. Relief under the rule is considered an exceptional remedy.
A Tennessee court’s order is presumed to be valid and will be held void only when its invalidity appears on the face of the order or in the record upon which the order was based.
Tennessee law requires that child support complies with the Child Support Guidelines and that a child-support worksheet be used and made part of the official record in every case.
The Court held the trial court erred in holding Mother liable for retroactive child support when the operative child-support worksheet imposed no such obligation:
Here, the arrearage at issue in the June 2016 judgment was calculated pursuant to the amount listed in the 2011 permanent parenting plan; however, the permanent parenting plan adopted the child-support worksheet that provided for a downward deviation from the adjusted support obligation to an amount of zero dollars per month. This worksheet was also included in the official record of the court as required. Accordingly, we conclude that the challenged June 2016 judgment, calculating the amount of the child-support arrearage and attorney fees owed for failure to pay support, is void.
Relief from the judgment is also warranted pursuant to Rule 60.02(5) given the nature of the record before this Court. The record reflects that the parties adhered to the downward deviation reflecting the child-support worksheet and that Father did not request support until Mother filed her petition to modify the permanent parenting plan, all while Mother contributed to the children’s college fund as agreed.
The trial court’s judgment was reversed, and the order directing Mother to pay retroactive child support was declared void.