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Posted by: Tanja Trezise on Apr 30, 2014

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys 1:

Lester G. Murphy, Sr., Nashville, Tennessee, Pro Se.

Attorneys 2:

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter, Warren A. Jasper, Senior Counsel; R. Stephen Powers, Assistant District Attorney, Ashland City, Tennessee, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Human Services, Child Support Division.

Judge(s): COTTRELL

A mother and father divorced and the trial court ordered the father to pay the mother $50 a week as support for their two children. The children subsequently came into the legal custody of their maternal grandfather, but the court did not order support. Ten years later, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to set child support against the father. After a hearing which the father did not attend, the trial court increased his child support obligation to $333 a month and declared that he owed back support of $31,635, which he was ordered to pay in monthly installments. Four years later, the father, acting pro se, filed a petition to modify the support order. The trial court dismissed the father’s petition, declaring only that its previous order was a valid one. Because there was an existing support order for the two children, the appropriate proceeding would have been one to modify that order. The requirements for modification were not met, and the trial court exceeded its authority by assessing an arrearage based upon an amount different from the amount set in the existing order. We accordingly hold that the father was entitled to Relief from a Final Order under Tenn. R. App. P. 60.02(5), and reverse the trial court’s denial of that relief. We also vacate the trial court’s earlier order imposing on the father a duty to pay a modified amount of support and retroactive child support.