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Alaska Child Support Enforcement Div. v. Campbell (2/7/97), 931 P 2d 416
Notice: This opinion is subject to correction before publication in the Pacific Reporter.
Readers are requested to bring errors to the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate
Courts, 303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, phone (907) 264-0607, fax (907)
THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA
STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT )
OF REVENUE, CHILD SUPPORT ) Supreme Court No. S-7203
ENFORCEMENT DIVISION, )
) Superior Court No.
Appellant, ) 3AN-93-11189 CI
BARBARA CAMPBELL, ) O P I N I O N
Appellee. ) [No. 4474 - February 7, 1997]
Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third
Judicial District, Anchorage,
Milton M. Souter, Judge.
Appearances: Diane L. Wendlandt, Assistant Attorney General,
Anchorage, Bruce M. Botelho, Attorney General, Juneau, for
Appellant. Barbara Campbell, pro se, Anchorage.
Before: Compton, Chief Justice, Rabinowitz, Matthews,
Eastaugh, and Fabe, Justices.
Two issues are presented in this appeal by the Department of Revenue, Child
Support Enforcement Division (CSED). The first is whether the superior court erred in holding
that CSED abused its discretion by failing to reduce arrearage collection payments on a child
support order. The second issue is whether the court erred in ordering CSED to give credit to
a non-custodial parent for voluntary purchases of clothing for the children made outside of her
ongoing support obligation.
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
Barbara Campbell is the mother of four minor children. At all times relevant to
this appeal, three of the children were in their father's custody. The fourth child, Sheila, was
in the custody of Campbell's father in Washington state. Campbell was engaged in a legal battle
to obtain custody of Sheila. Campbell was ordered to pay child support under Civil Rule 90.3
for the three children in the custody of their father. The amount of support owed by Campbell
for the period between July 1993 and December 1994 is the subject of this litigation.
At the times in question, Campbell worked forty hours a week and earned $12 an
hour. Under a Notice and Finding of Financial Responsibility dated February 26, 1992,
Campbell was initially ordered to pay ongoing support of $547 per month, plus past support of
over $6,000. Campbell appealed and requested an informal conference. After the informal
conference, her support obligation was increased to $601 per month in ongoing support, plus
over $11,000 in arrears.
Campbell appealed again, requesting a formal hearing. The hearing was held
December 15, 1992. After the hearing, the hearing officer concluded that there was "no proof
of good cause by clear and convincing evidence to adjust the obligations determined"under Rule
90.3. But, noting that Campbell had submitted evidence indicating that her work week was to
be cut to twenty hours starting January 1, 1993, the hearing officer concluded that Campbell
should be required to pay ongoing support of $308 per month from that point forward. The
Department of Revenue adopted the hearing officer's report, and ordered Campbell to pay the
$308 per month for ongoing support plus approximately $150 per month toward satisfaction of
the arrears on her account.
Campbell continued to work a -hour week, however, throughout 1993. Upon
learning this, CSED issued an Informal Conference Decision on Modification, effective July 1,
1993, setting Campbell's ongoing support obligation at $594 per month under Rule 90.3.
Campbell appealed, and argued at a formal hearing that she could not afford that level of support
given her regular expenditures as well as the costs of the Washington custody proceedings, car
repairs, and purchases of clothing which she gave directly to the children.
After this hearing, on November 9, 1993, the Department concluded that "[t]he
expenses described by [Campbell], while significant, are not extraordinary. . . . Taken as a
whole . . . , the evidence presented does not constitute proof of extraordinary expenses that
would cause substantial hardship in the absence of variation of the award." The Department
went on to note that it would cause "significant financial difficulties"if the payment for arrears
was maintained at $150 per month while the ongoing support was raised from $308 to $594 per
month. Thus, it concluded "the payment for arrears should be kept to a minimum. . . .
[CSED] should take this into account when establishing an amount of arrears to be collected with
the modified ongoing support payment."
Campbell appealed to the superior court, again arguing that she could not afford
the payments. Oral argument was held on January 19, 1995, and the superior court issued a
ruling from the bench. The court indicated that a "manifest injustice"had occurred in that
Campbell was being asked to pay increased child support, plus $150 per month in arrears, in
addition to necessary car repairs and other expenses, and in that she was also clothing the
children because the father was not buying adequate clothing. The court reversed the CSED
decision and remanded for a redetermination. At this point in the transcript, the ruling becomes
less clear. The court reiterated that the ongoing support of $594 was appropriate but that
Campbell's arrearage payments should be reduced or eliminated so that she would not be paying
more than that $594 per month. The court also indicated that Campbell should receive a credit
for clothing she gave directly to the children.
The court initially entered a written order, dated the same day as the oral ruling,
reversing CSED's decision to increase the support payments to $594 per month. CSED filed
a motion for clarification, noting that the oral ruling had indicated that the decision to raise
support payments to $594 would not be disturbed. The motion was accompanied by a Notice
of Filing Accounting Information and an affidavit by a CSED employee listing the amounts
collected from Campbell between July 1, 1993, and December 1, 1994, the period in question.
(EN1) The affidavit indicated that, in most months, CSED actually collected less than $594
from Campbell. More than $594 was collected in six of the seventeen months. Still, the total
collected over that period left an additional arrearage of $655.04.
CSED's Notice of Filing Accounting Information and Motion for Clarification
read as follows:
CSED proposes an accounting in which the amounts collected
between July 1, 1993 and December 1994 will be applied first to
the support obligation for the month in which the amount was
collected, with the remaining balance, if any, being applied to
ongoing amounts which accrued between July 1, 1993 and
December 1, 1994. This would still result in arrears of $655.04
accrued between July 1, 1993 and December 1, 1994. This
amount would, of course, be added to the arrears which accrued
prior to July 1, 1993, and any interest which has accrued on those
After considering CSED's Motion for Clarification, the court on May 31, 1995,
issued an Amended Final Order on Appeal, holding that "it is clear that this court's written order
of January 19, 1995 is not consistent with the Court's decision on the record on that date." The
amended order read:
For the reasons set forth in open court on January 19,
1995, the Court finds that Child Services Enforcement Division
("CSED") abused its discretion by failing to reduce Appellant's
arrearage payment when Appellant's support payment was raised
from $308 per month to $594 per month. CSED's decision raising
Appellant's support amount was not an abuse of discretion or
otherwise objectionable. Therefore, CSED is hereby ordered to
apply any amount paid over $594 for any month or months to
ongoing support for Appellant's 3 children and to credit Appellant
for purchases of clothing and other items for those children.
CSED's accounting properly provides those credits and is
CSED appeals from this amended final order, arguing (1) that the court erred in
finding that CSED abused its discretion in failing to reduce the arrearage payment when the
evidence demonstrated that CSED collected less than the ordered ongoing support for the period
in question; and (2) that a credit for the purchases of clothing is unwarranted. (EN2)
The meaning of the amended final order is not clear. Taken literally, the
amended final order does not require CSED to take any action. The final sentence of the order
states: "CSED's accounting properly provides those credits and is approved." The words "those
credits"evidently refer to credits for purchases of clothing and to credits for monthly collections
in excess of $594. With respect to monthly collections in excess of $594, we interpret the
amended final order literally because the accounting dealt in detail with CSED's treatment of the
amounts collected and the final sentence of the order must mean that the court found that these
amounts were properly credited. With respect to credits for clothing purchases, we do not think
a literal interpretation is appropriate because the accounting did not give any credit for clothing
purchases. We therefore interpret the final sentence of the order as applying solely to cash
collections and not to clothing purchases.
Based on this interpretation, we conclude that we need not review the trial court's
conclusion that CSED abused its discretion by failing to reduce arrearage payments when
monthly support was raised. The abuse of discretion conclusion is dictum which has no
We proceed to review that portion of the amended final order which requires
CSED to give credit to Campbell for purchases of clothing she made for the children in addition
to her support payments. The superior court reasoned that CSED erred in "not considering"
CSED argues that, as a matter of law, voluntary payments or gifts to children by
a noncustodial parent do not entitle that parent to a credit against his or her child support
This court addressed voluntary payments outside of child support payments in
Young v. Williams, 583 P.2d 201 (Alaska 1978):
Our overall conclusion is that the superior court has not
erred in failing to grant Young the $800.00 credit. The majority
position is that payments voluntarily made to the children are not
to be credited against child support obligations. The rationale is
that such voluntary payments to the children quite often are
intended for particular purposes whereas the manner in which child
support payments are used to meet the children's basic needs is left
to the discretion of the parent or guardian with custody.
Id. at 203 (footnotes omitted). Young thus noted the "general rule"that direct payments to
children may not be credited against a child support obligation. Id; see also Glover v. Glover,
598 S.W.2d 736, 737 (Ark. 1980); Fearon v. Fearon, 154 S.E.2d 165, 168 (Va. 1967);
Hirschfield v. Hirschfield, 347 N.W.2d 627, 628 (Wis. App. 1984); cf. Ogard v. Ogard, 808
P.2d 815, 817 (Alaska 1991) (holding that Young rule does not apply to period between
separation and interim child support award, where no support order exists).
Application of the Young rule may at first seem harsh here. Campbell testified
at length that the father was spending both his public assistance and her support payments on
himself and not properly clothing the children. If true, one can certainly understand her desire
to provide for the children directly. Young itself left the door open for courts to credit direct
payments to the children in some instances: "[A debtor spouse] cannot, as a matter of law, claim
credit on account of payments voluntarily made directly to the children, though special
considerations of an equitable nature may justify a court in crediting such payments on his [or
her] indebtedness to the plaintiff when that can be done without injustice to the [custodial
spouse]." 583 P.2d at 203 (quoting Briggs v. Briggs, 165 P.2d 772, 777 (Or. 1946)).
But Young also noted strict limitations on the grant of credit by a court for
voluntary payments: "In those few cases in which credit has been granted, it is for payments
made at the request of the parent or guardian with custody or for cash gifts used for child
support, the disbursement of which was controlled by the parent or guardian with custody." 583
P.2d at 203.
The rationale of the Young rule was articulated by the Court of Appeals of
Wisconsin as follows:
The general rule, however, is that a parent ordered to pay child
support is not entitled to credit for voluntary expenditures for the
child not made in the manner specifically ordered. Allowing credit
for such payments or expenditures would condone the unilateral
modification of court orders and interference with the custodial
parent's right to decide how support money should be spent.
Hirschfield, 347 N.W.2d at 628 (footnote omitted). The Supreme Court of Arkansas gave an
Although we are not insensitive to the generosity of a noncustodial
parent, as here, who provides additional support for his children
to that expressly ordered by the court, we do not, as a matter of
law, give credit for voluntary expenditures. This is particularly
true in child support cases in view of the fact that the custodial
parent makes arrangements for the child's care "in reliance on a
proper compliance with the decree"by the noncustodial parent.
Glover, 598 S.W.2d at 737 (citations omitted).
If Campbell's allegations are true, and the father wastes the money that he
receives, then her argument that she should be given credit for direct gifts of clothing to the
children has some force. But her remedy for the father's transgressions lies elsewhere -- in a
motion to modify the allowable form of payment, as the Department suggests, or even a motion
to change custody. (EN3) Campbell cannot simply stop paying under the support order and start
making the purchases that she believes the father should have made.
Since the father has custody, it is the father's prerogative here to decide how to
spend the support money on the children. If he is not fulfilling his parental role responsibly,
then Campbell may petition for custody or take other measures to ensure that the children are
provided for. But a non-custodial parent should not be allowed to make the decisions that are
by law entrusted to the custodial parent. (EN4)
For these reasons, that portion of the amended final order which requires CSED
to credit Campbell's clothing purchases for the children against her child support obligation is
1. The amounts collected and arrears accrued were listed in the affidavit as follows:
Amount Between July 1993
Month Collected and December 1994
1993 July $ 310.28 $ 283.72
August 460.28 417.44
September 600.00 411.44
October 450.00 555.44
November 429.44 720.00
December 450.00 864.00
1994 January 450.00 1,008.00
February 432.26 1,169.74
March 489.14 1,274.60
April 618.33 1,250.27
May 457.73 1,386.54
June 456.38 1,524.16
July 607.81 1,510.35
August 421.77 1,682.58
September 632.78 1,643.80
October 600.08 1,637.72
November 1,576.68 655.04
The affidavit indicates that collections were made primarily through income withholding.
2. At oral argument, Campbell noted that she had recently taken custody of one of the three
children from the father. CSED therefore reduced her ongoing support payments effective
December 1, 1994. Thus, the payments at issue are those between July 1, 1993, when the
payments were increased, and December 1, 1994, when they were decreased. The superior
court declined to treat the issue as moot because the amount of accrued arrears was at issue.
Since the superior court's decision, Campbell apparently suffered a head injury for which
she receives workers' compensation, so that her support payments have been further reduced;
she informed this court in writing that CSED is considering a "hardship"ruling in her case.
3. We note that none of Campbell's allegations were substantiated by anything other than
her own assertions at oral argument. But if the father is treating the payments as his own, as
the superior court seemed to believe, then he is doing so wrongly, because the custodian receives
child support payments on behalf of the child:
The fact that this court has not imposed the duties of a full-
fledged trustee on the parent, Young v. Williams, 583 P.2d 201,
203 (Alaska 1978) does not imply that the parent is thereby
deemed the owner of these funds. Our reluctance in Young to
impose formal fiduciary responsibilities upon the custodial parent
cannot be used to justify a diminution in his or her responsibility
to receive and dispose of such monies exclusively for the sake of
Malekos v. Yin, 655 P.2d 728, 734 n.2 (Alaska 1982) (Rabinowitz, J., dissenting).
4. See also 2 Homer H. Clark, The Law of Domestic Relations sec. 18.3, at 399-400 (2d
The [non-custodial] parent has the duty of providing support in the
amount specified by the decree, but he does not have the right to
say how the money shall be spent. If he is permitted to make
presents or other direct payments to the child, this violates the
custodian's authority and responsibility for the care to be given to