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Johnson v. Johnson

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

November 1, 2019

MIRIAM A. JOHNSON
v.
ALBERT D. JOHNSON JR., Appellant

          Appeal from the Order Entered October 22, 2018 In the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County Domestic Relations at No(s): No. 0582 N 1997, PACSES No. 133001257

          BEFORE: PANELLA, P.J., KUNSELMAN, J., and MUSMANNO, J.

          OPINION

          PANELLA, P.J.

         Albert D. Johnson Jr., Father, appeals from the trial court order denying his petition for special relief, seeking repayment from Miriam A. Johnson, Mother, of an overpayment of support. Father and Mother are natural parents of their adult daughter Jessica who, because of mental illness, continued to receive court ordered support payments from Father after her eighteenth birthday. On July 6, 2017, the trial court issued an order terminating Father's support obligation retroactively to August 4, 2014.[1] Thereafter, Father filed the instant petition, seeking repayment of the $71, 802.74 credit to his account stemming from support payments made between August 2014 and July 2017. During a hearing on Father's petition, Mother asserted that, per Father's request, support payments were made directly to Jessica. The trial court found that the checks did go directly to Jessica pursuant to court order. Therefore, it denied Father's petition to collect the credit from Mother. Father appealed, claiming that Mother bore responsibility to refund him the credit, regardless of to whom the payments were made. Upon review, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion. Consequently, we affirm.

         Father raises two issues on appeal:

I. [Whether] the trial court erred in failing to order the repayment of overpaid support, on either statutory or other grounds[?]
II. [Whether] the trial court erred in failing to provide for the repayment/recapture of overpaid support given [Mother's] initiation of a second support action[?]

         Father's Brief, at 4.

The amount of a support order is largely within the discretion of the trial court, whose judgment should not be disturbed on appeal absent a clear abuse of discretion. An abuse of discretion is not merely an error of judgment, but rather a misapplication of the law or an unreasonable exercise of judgment. A finding that the trial court abused its discretion must rest upon a showing by clear and convincing evidence, and the trial court will be upheld on any valid ground.

Portugal v. Portugal, 798 A.2d 246, 249 (Pa. Super. 2002) (citation omitted).

         In his first issue, Father asserts that the court erred and misapplied the law when it did not order repayment of the overpaid support as required by Pa.R.C.P. § 1910.19(g)(2). Father maintains that section 1910.19(g)(2) provides that the credit must be collected from the former obligee, in this instance, Mother. He claims that although the situation was irregular in that the support payments went directly to Jessica, and not to Mother, this does not change Mother's status as former obligee. Therefore, he argues she is responsible for payment of the credit. See Father's Brief, at 8-11. We disagree.

         Father's argument relies on his interpretation of section 1910.19(g)(2), which provides in full:

(2) Order Terminated. If there is an overpayment in any amount and there is no charging order in effect, within one year of the termination of the charging order, the former obligor may file a petition with the domestic relations section seeking recovery of the overpayment. A copy shall be served upon the former obligee as original process. The domestic relations section shall schedule a conference on the petition, which shall be conducted consistent with the rules governing support actions. The domestic relations section shall have the authority to enter an order against the former obligee for the ...

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