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Haggard v. Haggard

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

October 25, 2017

MARY CHRISTINE HAGGARD APPELLANT
v.
BRIAN EDWARD HAGGARD APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE WASHINGTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 72DR-14-1519] HONORABLE CRISTI BEAUMONT, JUDGE

          Matthews, Campbell, Roads, McClure & Thompson, P.A., by: Sarah L. Waddoups and Ryan P. Blue, for appellant.

          Taylor Law Partners, LLP, by: John Mikesch, for appellee.

          RITA W. GRUBER, Chief Judge

         Mary Christine Haggard (Christy) appeals from an order dismissing her request to modify the parties' divorce decree regarding certain expenses related to their minor children. Her ex-husband, Brian Edward Haggard (Brian), cross-appeals from the court's order interpreting and clarifying the divorce decree regarding the timing of alimony payments. We affirm on both the appeal and the cross-appeal.

         Christy filed a complaint for divorce against Brian on September 5, 2014. The circuit court ordered the couple to attend mediation and appointed an attorney ad litem to represent their children's interests. After the mediation, the parties appeared before the court on January 22, 2015, and recited into the record their mediated agreement regarding custody, child support, visitation, alimony, and property division. The agreement provided for joint custody, with the parties essentially alternating weeks; required Brian to pay child support to Christy in the amount of $1300 per month plus 25 percent of any tax refunds, employment bonuses or other income he received; and ordered Brian to pay Christy "alimony in the amount of $1200 per month for 120 months beginning on February 1, 2015, " plus 25 percent of any employment bonuses or other income he received. The circuit court entered a decree of divorce on March 10, 2015.

         On January 26, 2016, Christy filed a petition to modify the divorce decree, requesting the court to address two issues: first, Christy alleged that Brian had refused to tender alimony payments to her on the first of each month and had intentionally used the date of the alimony payment as a "weapon of manipulation and control, " making the payments "when he [felt] so inclined to pay." She asked the court to order Brian to make the payments on the first of each month. She also alleged that the divorce decree was silent on the matter of the children's expenses other than medical expenses. She specifically mentioned sports activities, cell phones, haircuts, school uniforms, summer camps, and birthday-party expenses. In an amended petition, she alleged that the parties had agreed to divide these expenses equally and that this agreement was reflected in the oral recitation of their agreement before the court on January 22, 2015. She claimed that the divorce decree's providing for equal division of only the children's medical expenses was a drafting error and did not accurately reflect their agreement.

         Brian moved to dismiss Christy's petition, arguing that the circuit court lacked authority to modify the divorce decree absent consent of the parties because the decree constituted a valid and binding contract. He also argued that the court could not order payment of those expenses because they were not enumerated in Administrative Order Number 10.

         The circuit court entered an order on April 13, 2016, denying Brian's motion regarding alimony but granting his motion on the issue of the children's expenses. The court found that Christy had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because the divorce decree was the final agreement of the parties and any previous agreement-that is, the oral recitation at the hearing before entry of the divorce decree-was not relevant given that the divorce decree constituted the final agreement and was agreed to by both parties.

         After a hearing, the court entered an order on October 25, 2016, finding that the decree's provision regarding alimony was not ambiguous and that the language in the decree required Brian to pay alimony once every 30-31 days beginning on February 1, 2015, for 120 months. Alternatively, the court found that if the language regarding the payment date for alimony was ambiguous, the court was using its authority under Rule 60(b) of the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure to correct a clerical mistake in a decree at any time. Accordingly, the court ordered Brian to make the alimony payments on the first day of each month.

         I. Appeal

         Christy appeals from the circuit court's dismissal of her petition to modify the divorce decree to provide that the parties divide equally the expenses of the children. Our standard of review for the granting of a motion to dismiss is whether the circuit court abused its discretion. Hall v. Jones, 2015 Ark. 2, at 3, 453 S.W.3d 674, 676. Christy contends that the parties negotiated an agreement regarding these expenses, the agreement was read into the record at the hearing on January 22, 2016, and the provision was erroneously omitted from the divorce decree incorporating their agreement.

         The relevant recitation at the hearing of the parties' agreement-i.e., dealing with the children's expenses-provided as follows:

Expenses for the minor children will be divided 50/50 between the parties. Any expense under $100 will just-each parent will keep an accounting during the month and they'll reconcile the amounts at the end of the month if one party owes the other party for any expenses. Any single expenses over $100 shall be reconciled between the parties immediately. Medical expenses not covered by insurance shall be split 50/50 between the parties. The parties have agreed that a mole on BH's arm, the cost shall be split 50/50. The boys will remain at St. ...

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