Virginia child support appeal dismissed

A Virginia child support appeal demonstrates how supposedly simple and straightforward species of cases can become procedural wind-knots.  Not to be outdone, the Court of Appeals demonstrates the effectiveness of procedural rules when it comes to resolving such cases.

In an unpublished opinion, the Virginia Court of Appeals summarily affirmed a decision by the Prince William County Circuit Court denying a father’s effort to defeat Virginia child support orders entered against him by Virginia’s Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) for back child support.

The case’s procedural background is somewhat convoluted for a Virginia child support case.   This blog entry is, in part, merely an effort to straighten it all out in one place for purposes of my own analysis.  So here it is in all its glory:

  1. DCSE entered an administrative support order against the father in  July 2002.
  2. Father appealed the DCSE order to the juvenile and domestic relations district court (JDR court).  Father’s appeal of this order was dismissed by the JDR court on July 2, 2003, for not timely filing (procedural default).
  3. The JDR court entered an order awarding father physical custody of his child on December 6, 2002
  4. On December 10, 2002, DCSE issued an “Order/Notice to Withhold Income for Child Support,” requiring father’s employer to deduct $0 for child support and $166.75 per month for past due child support from each of father’s paychecks.
  5. The JDR court suspended the custody order on December 27, 2002 after the mother filed a Motion to Reconsider.
  6. On April 27, 2003, the JDR court got around to reconsidering its December 6, 2002 custody decision, reversed itself, and awarded sole custody to the mother.
  7. On April 3, 2009, the JDR court held a hearing on (1) DCSE’s motion to enforce the administrative order, (2) a show cause pursuant to the administrative order, and (3) father’s appeal of an administrative ruling regarding a garnishment.   The JDR court dismissed everything on the same day by order but without written explanation.
  8. Father appealed from the JDR court’s April 3, 2009 order.
  9. On September 8, 2009, the JDR court entered a new order clarifying its April 3, 2009 order that expressly denied DCSE’s motion to enforce the administrative order, dismissed rule to show cause, and denied the father’s appeal of DCSE’s December 2002 administrative ruling.  This order was also appealed to the circuit court.
  10. The father’s appeal from the September 8, 2009 JDR court order was dismissed on November 17, 2009.
  11. The father’s appeal from the JDR court’s April 3, 2009 order was heard in the Circuit Court on May 4, 2010.
  12. On May 4, 2010, the Circuit Court entered an order with its rulings on the appeal from the April 3, 2009 order wherein the Circuit Court stated that the father’s failure to pay was involuntary and not contemptuous and the rule to show cause was dismissed.
  13. No appeal was filed after entry of the Circuit Court’s May 4, 2010 order.
  14. In 2011, father filed a motion to reopen the case to protect the record and a motion to dismiss the September 8, 2009 order as void and/or to rewrite the order.  DCSE responded by filing a motion to dismiss the father’s motions.
  15. On May 6, 2011, the JDR court granted DCSE’s motions to dismiss.
  16. The father appealed the JDR Court’s order to the Circuit Court.
  17. On January 13, 2012 (which just happened to be on a Friday), the Circuit Court issued a memorandum opinion denying the father’s motions and granting DCSE’s motion to dismiss.  The final order embodying the Circuit Court’s decision was entered on March 16, 2012.
  18. The father, as one might have guessed, appealed the Circuit Court’s March 16, 2012 order to the Virgina Court of Appeals.

Don’t feel bad if you had to read through this a few times to put it all together.  Trust me when I say that it is even more difficult to follow the summary in the Court of Appeal’s opinion, which you can read for yourself by following the link at the end of this entry.  This is atypical for a Virginia child support appeal.

The Virginia Court of Appeals (VaCtApp) summarily affirmed the Circuit Court’s dismissal of the father’s motions.   Once again demonstrating the power of court procedural rules when it comes to cutting through the chafe.  Here are the main takeaway points from the court’s unpublished opinion:

VaCtApp found that the father had ample opportunity to present his jurisdictional challenges to the April 3, 2009 and September 8, 2009 orders when he was afforded a trial de novo in his appeals to the Circuit Court.  He failed to file a timely appeal from the Circuit Court orders entered on November 17, 2009 and May 4, 2010 thus missing his opportunity yet again.   Although an order entered by a court that lacks proper jurisdiction is void and subject to collateral attack at any time, the father failed to establish that such was the case in this instance.

The father argued that the Circuit “failed to rule” on certain issues.  In its own way, the VaCtApp explained that, for all intents and purposes, there is no such thing as an implied ruling or ruling by omission.  If a ruling cannot be found in an order or otherwise on the record then there is no ruling.  If there is no ruling then it is the father’s fault for failing to obtain it and not an error on the part of the Circuit Court for failing to rule.

Finally, the father set forth arguments alleging fraud by DCSE.  However, father failed to provide any legal authorities or principles to support his argument.  The VaCtApp does not consider “unsupported assertions of error” so the father’s arguments in this regard were denied without consideration.

In summary, even a Virginia child support proceeding can quickly become quite treacherous to the unwary.

The complete text of the unpublished opinion can be found here for your reading pleasure.


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