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Be Careful What You Wish For

In child support actions, winning a legal point might not be the best strategy. Sometimes, the winning strategy is to look at the overall picture.

Jeff, a resident of Ohio, moved to California in 2004 for a new job. His wife Andrea and their children followed four months later. It took six weeks for Andrea to find out about Jeff’s extramarital affairs, and she and the children left for Ohio immediately after. Both quickly filed petitions for divorce, Jeff in California and Andrea in Ohio. Jeff fought the Ohio petition,wanting the case heard in California.

The good news for Jeff? In 2007, he won a decision in the Ohio Supreme Court; the court said Andrea’s six week stay in California terminated her Ohio residency. She needed to have been in the state six months before filing, so Jeff got to proceed with his action in California.

The bad news for Jeff? Andrea had gotten a temporary support order in Ohio pending a final result, and Jeff had paid all that. However, when the California family court looked at the child support issue (and evidence that Jeff had been hiding income), it ordered far more support than Jeff had been paying. Not only that, since there had never been a California support order, the court started the higher amount as of the date Jeff filed his Petition, giving him credit for what he did pay, but that left him over $170,000 in the hole. Jeff got what he wanted – the case was decided in California, using California law, and the Ohio case treated as void. All it cost was eight years of legal hassles, the (presumably enormous) legal fees, and an extra $170,000 in child support. (In re Marriage of Barth, 10/22/2012.)