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Watkins v. Benjamin

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

August 20, 2019

HENRY C. WATKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
JENNIFER L. BENJAMIN (f/k/a Watkins), Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 23 May 2019.

          Appeal by Defendant from orders entered 28 December 2017 and 25 January 2018 by Judge Ward D. Scott in Buncombe County No. 13 CVD 3554 District Court.

          Jackson Family Law, by Jill Schnabel Jackson, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Jonathan McGirt for Defendant-Appellant.

          COLLINS, JUDGE.

         Defendant appeals from the trial court's (1) 28 December 2017 order establishing child support obligations and settling arrearage issues between the parties and (2) 25 January 2018 order denying Defendant's motions pursuant to North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure 59 and 60 seeking to modify the 28 December 2017 order. Defendant contends that the trial court erred by exercising subject matter jurisdiction over the child support dispute in the 28 December 2017 order, and that both the 28 December 2017 and 25 January 2018 orders should be vacated (the latter as moot) as a result. We affirm.

         I. Background

         The parties married in October 1996, separated in August 2012, and divorced in April 2014. Two children were born of the marriage, and the family lived together in Buncombe County.

         In April 2013, following the parties' separation, Defendant and the children relocated to Virginia. On 19 August 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint in Buncombe County District Court seeking equitable distribution of the marital estate and joint custody of the children. Defendant answered on 14 February 2014, and asserted a number of counterclaims including, inter alia, a claim for child support. Plaintiff replied, asserted affirmative defenses, and moved to dismiss on 3 April 2014, conceding that he "owe[d] a duty of support to the minor children."

         The trial court entered a temporary consent order on 17 July 2014 awarding the parties joint custody of the children and awarding primary placement of the children to Plaintiff in Buncombe County. On 6 February 2015, the trial court entered an order that, inter alia, denied both parties' claims for temporary child support, and reserved the issues of retroactive and prospective child support for subsequent determination. The trial court entered an order on 25 August 2015 that, inter alia, dismissed both parties' pending claims for retroactive child support, held that no child support arrears existed as of 1 August 2015, and reserved the issues of child custody and prospective child support for subsequent determination.

         On 9 October 2015, the trial court entered an order that, inter alia, found that Defendant had relocated to Maryland, awarded custody of the children to Plaintiff; and ordered Defendant to pay Plaintiff child support (including arrears) and temporary prospective child support. The trial court entered an order on 22 March 2016 that, inter alia, calculated the arrears owed to Plaintiff by Defendant, set Defendant's permanent prospective child support obligation to Plaintiff, and set forth certain prospective expenses to be shared by the parties. Plaintiff applied for child support services from the Buncombe County Child Support Enforcement Agency, which moved to intervene on 27 May 2016. On 28 June 2016, the trial court entered an order that, inter alia, allowed the intervention and recalculated the child support arrears owed to Plaintiff by Defendant.

         Defendant filed a motion to modify the child custody arrangement and to hold Plaintiff in civil contempt on 4 October 2016. The trial court entered a contempt citation and order to show cause on 6 October 2016. On 3 January 2017, the trial court entered a consent order that reflected the parties' agreement to, inter alia: (1) modify the custody arrangement such that the parties would share joint custody of the children, and award primary placement of the children to Defendant; (2) settle Defendant's pending claims in the action; (3) reserve Plaintiff's rights to recover retroactive child support from Defendant; and (4) have the trial court and the State of North Carolina "retain jurisdiction over the parties and the minor children in regards to child custody and child support issues" and "future modification of" the orders enforcing the trial court's rulings on those issues.

         Sometime in early 2017, Defendant filed a complaint seeking child support from Plaintiff in the Circuit Court of Baltimore County, Maryland (the "Maryland action"). Plaintiff moved to dismiss, and the Maryland court dismissed Defendant's Maryland action on 9 June 2017, concluding that it lacked personal jurisdiction over Plaintiff. On 13 November 2017, Defendant filed a petition with the Maryland court to have the dismissal of the Maryland action reviewed, and Defendant's petition was apparently granted and remained pending as of the time the orders at issue in this appeal were entered.

         On 19 May 2017-after she filed the Maryland action, and before the Maryland court dismissed the same-Defendant moved the trial court (i.e., the Buncombe County District Court) to modify the child support obligations between the parties to reflect the modified custody arrangement, specifically ...


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