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A Better Partnership
November 20, 2015

COA: geographic cost of living variations do not justify deviation from Michigan Child Support Formula

In Narvaez Teran v. Rittley, No. 322016, the Court of Appeals held that a trial court may not, as a general rule, deviate from the Michigan Child Support Formula recommended child support on the basis of the general cost of living of where the parents and child reside.  Additionally, the court held that MCL 722.714(1) does not limit a court’s subject matter jurisdiction in a paternity action.
 
Susana Narvaez Teran and Michael Rittley had a child while Rittley was on active military duty in Ecuador.  After the child was born, Narvaez Teran sued Rittley for child support in Virginia.  Rittley responded by providing a Michigan driver’s license and establishing that his residence was in Michigan.  The claim was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.  Two years later, Narvaez Teran filed a paternity action in Michigan to determine custody.  Following a paternity test, the parties stipulated to an order of filiation.  The Friend of the Court subsequently recommended setting Rittley’s child support obligation at $1,211 per month.  Rittley then filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the court lacked jurisdiction because he did not reside in Michigan after 2007.  The court denied the motion and subsequently set the amount of child support at $1,211 per month.  In doing so, the court rejected Rittley’s argument that a deviation from the child support formula was necessary based on international variations in the cost of living.  In addition, the court provided that child support would be retroactive from the date the Virginia case was dismissed and awarded attorneys’ fees to Narvaez Teran.  Rittley appealed.
 
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decisions, holding first that the trial court did not lack subject matter jurisdiction because MCL 722.714(1) does not limit the circuit court’s subject matter jurisdiction, but rather, concerns venue and instructs where a paternity action should be filed.  In addition, the court held that the award of attorneys’ fees was not excessive under MCR 3.206(C)(2) in light of the respective incomes of the parties and the fact that retention of a Spanish-speaking attorney was a necessary expense.  The court also concluded that a retroactive child support order was permissible under MCL 722.717(2).  Finally, the court, in an issue of first impression, held that deviation from the child support guidelines based on the cost of living of where the parents and child reside is not appropriate.  The court reached this conclusion based on the persuasive reasoning of the Maryland Court of Appeals in Gladis v Gladisova, 382 Md 654; 856 A2d 703 (2004), and because neither the Legislature nor the Friend of the Court Bureau has included geographic cost of living variations as a factor justifying deviation from the recommended child support amount.

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