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Steele v. Neeman

April 28, 2009

MELODIE A. STEELE, APPELLANT (PLAINTIFF),
v.
ROBERT B. NEEMAN, APPELLEE (DEFENDANT).



Appeal from the District Court of Campbell County, The Honorable Dan R. Price II, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Golden, Justice

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] In this child support action, Melodie Steele (Mother) sought an upward modification of child support against Robert Neeman (Father). The district court modified the child support amount, but downward to less than half the statutorily determined presumptive amount. The district court cited the child's poor relationship with his father, which included lack of visitation, as the reason for deviation. We reverse.

ISSUE

[¶2] Mother states her sole issue as "[w]hether the District Court erred when it modified Neeman's child support obligation and deviated from the presumptive child support amount."*fn1

FACTS

[¶3] Mother and Father have one son (Child). They divorced in 1991. In their divorce decree, Father agreed to pay child support until Child turned twenty. In 2006, because it had been more than three years since the prior support order had been entered, Mother, through the State of Wyoming, petitioned for a modification of child support.*fn2 Based on the financial affidavits, Mother requested an upward adjustment in child support. Father responded with a "Motion to Terminate Child Support." Father gave as his reasons for his motion the fact that Child had turned eighteen and Child had petitioned to legally change his surname from that of Father to that of Mother.

[¶4] An evidentiary hearing was held in which Mother and Father testified. Financial evidence was introduced. There was also testimony regarding the relationship between Father and Child. Father and Child spent three days together in 2005. No evidence was adduced as to how the two interacted during those three days. Otherwise there had been no visitation between Father and Child since approximately 2000. No reason was provided. Father testified he telephones Child approximately once a month but gets only the answering machine. He leaves messages. He has no knowledge of Child ever returning his phone calls. Mother testified Child has made some unidentified attempts to contact Father.

[¶5] At the time of the hearing Mother had remarried and was living in Florida. Child had been using Mother's married surname for an undetermined period of time and petitioned to legally change his surname when he turned eighteen. Mother testified Child preferred her married surname so he could feel part of the family. There was no evidence as to Child's feelings towards Father.

[¶6] In its decision letter, the district court found Father's presumptive child support amount to be $736.24. The district court, however, deviated from this amount. The district court reasoned:

The child spends and historically has spent little or no time with the father and also has shown very little interest in developing a relationship with the father. The child has not even been using his surname and has been going by mother's current last name. Also, there is a petition filed to change the child's last name from Neeman. It is apparent to the court that the father is merely a financial source for the child and nothing more.

While the district court did not think this was legally sufficient to terminate Father's child support obligation, it decided it did justify a downward deviation from the presumptive amount. Consequently, the district court set Father's child support obligation at $300 per month until Child's twentieth birthday.

DISCUSSION

Standard of ...


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