Case Caption: Charles E. Engeman v. Kimberly L. EngemanCase Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0023Date: 06/09/2016Author: Cabret, Maria M. Citation: Summary:

Considering a father's his motion to modify his child support obligations under a separation agreement he entered with the children's mother, which was merged into the parties' divorce decree, the Superior Court was required to apply the child support guidelines promulgated by the Division of Paternity and Child Support of the Virgin Islands Department of Justice, as set out in 16 V.I. R. & Regs. § 345-01, and it erred by not applying these guidelines. In plain and unambiguous language, 16 V.I.C. § 345(b) provides that the guidelines must be applied, even in cases where the parties have agreed to the amount of child support-like the parties did in this case through their separation agreement. Moreover, 16 V.I.C. § 345(c) provides that in modifying or disregarding the guidelines, the Superior Court must support that decision with specific and written findings of fact, including, at a minimum, the amount that would have been established by the guidelines and the reasons for the variance therefrom. Here, the Superior Court failed to make any findings of fact supporting its decision to disregard the guidelines and accept the child support provisions of the parties' separation agreement, and never determined what the guidelines would have required the father to pay in child support in this case. However, father invited this error when he asked the Superior Court to grant the divorce and enforce the provisions of the separation agreement-including the very child support obligations he seeks to modify- in the joint divorce petition. When a party induces or encourages the Superior Court to commit an error, the invited error doctrine precludes that error from forming the basis for reversal on appeal. Here, neither party disputes that the separation agreement imposes greater child support obligations on the father than the guidelines otherwise would have, and when a parent agrees to pay more child support than is legally required, that parent cannot later be heard to complain that the support obligation should be modified because the amount he or she agreed to pay differs from the guideline amount. In addition, father's argument that he is entitled to a review of the child support obligations in the parties' agreement under 16 V.I.C. § 369(a) is misplaced, because that requirement only applies to child support orders to which the Division of Paternity and Child Support is a party, and the Division was not a party to the child support arrangement the parties reached in this case and incorporated by reference into the divorce decree. Because the Division was not a party to this child support arrangement, in order to obtain a modification of his child support obligations, father had to satisfy 16 V.I.C. § 110 by showing such a substantial and continuing change of circumstances since the entry of the original decree as to make continued enforcement of that decree unfair. In this case, the Superior Court correctly held that the father failed to make this showing because fluctuations in the parties' incomes were contemplated under the separation agreement and taken into account in the child support arrangement it set up. Accordingly, the Superior Court's February 4, 2015 order is affirmed.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion