Michigan Court Of Appeals Allows Motion For Relief In Revocation Of Paternity Case

On March 19, 2015, the Michigan Court of Appeals held in a child support case that Michigan's Revocation of Paternity Act (RPA) "allows a person who has obtained a judgment under the RPA to seek relief from prior child support orders . . ." through a motion for relief from judgment under MCR 2.612.

In Adler v Dormio, Docket No. 319608, the Michigan Court of Appeals addressed the issue of whether the RPA permits relief from judgment under MCR 2.612.

The Court first recited the facts of the case.

The underlying case arises from a paternity complaint filed by plaintiff on December 7, 2006, naming defendant as the biological father of her son, who was born on April 14, 2005. Defendant was served by alternate service with the paternity complaint on December 27, 2006, and with an order for genetic testing on January 8, 2007. Plaintiff filed a default application and moved for entry of a default order of filiation after defendant failed to respond to either the complaint or the order for testing. At the April 12, 2007 motion hearing, the trial court entered a judgment of filiation and a UCSO requiring defendant to pay $297 per month in child support, retroactive to the child’s date of birth, April 14, 2005. On plaintiff’s motion, the court modified the UCSO to include $368 per month for childcare effective from October 6, 2006, bringing defendant’s total monthly liability for child support and childcare to $669.

Defendant claims to have first learned about the paternity case when his wages were garnished in the summer of 2009. In 2013 defendant filed a motion to set aside the judgment of filiation under section 1443(3) of the then new Revocation of Paternity Act (RPA), MCL 722.1431 et seq. in which he denied paternity. Genetic tests excluded the defendant as the father. The court held a best interests hearing to set aside the judgment of filiation and terminated his child support obligation effective September 2012, the date of the filing the RPA petition. The over $45,000 in arrears that had accrued prior to that date were unaffected by the order.

Subsequently defendant attempted to set up a payment plan for the arrears through the Friend of Court. Because only $300 of the arrears was owed to the State, the court declined to enter a discharge plan and instructed defendant to “file a motion for relief of judgment to be heard by the circuit court”.

Defendant filed a motion with the circuit court to vacate his support orders and support enforcement orders pursuant to MCR 2.612(C)(1)(f). He argued below, as he argues on appeal, that although MCL 722.1443(3) does not provide a mechanism for relief from arrearages owed for a child the court determined was not his, the Legislature clearly intended such relief to be available. The trial court denied defendant’s motion after stating that defendant had failed to meet his burden under MCR 2.612(C)(1)(f). It is from that order that defendant appeals.

The Court's analysis of the availability of relief from the circuit court's child support orders under the RPA and MCR 2.612 followed.

MCL 722.1443(3) of the RPA provides:

A judgment under this act does not relieve a man from a support obligation for the child or the child’s mother that was incurred before the action was filed or prevent a person from seeking relief under applicable court rules to vacate or set aside a judgment. (Emphasis added.)

The clear and unambiguous language of the statute indicates that while a judgment under the RPA does not automatically excuse a parent from compliance with prior support orders, it also does not bar a motion to have the judgment vacated or set aside by means of any applicable court rule . . . .

MCR 2.612(C)(1) provides six grounds under which a court may relieve a party from “a final judgment, order, or proceeding”:

(a) Mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.

(b) Newly discovered evidence which by due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under MCR 2.611(B).

(c) Fraud (intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party.

(d) The judgment is void.

(e) The judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged; a prior judgment on which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated; or it is no longer equitable that the judgment should have prospective application.

(f) Any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment.

As long as a party meets the requirements for obtaining relief under any one of the specified grounds, nothing in the text of MCR 2.612(C)(1) renders it ineffective against a UCSO as a matter of law . . . .

We find that MCL 722.1433(3) allows a person who has obtained a judgment under the RPA to seek relief from prior child support orders under MCL 2.612. MCL 722.1443(3) specifically allows a defendant to resort to applicable court rules to seek relief from prior support orders. MCR 2.612(C)(1) expressly provides for such relief and does not limit the type of orders from which relief may be sought. Therefore, the text of the statute and the court rule provide no legal reason barring defendant from seeking relief from the modified UCSO under MCL 2.612. We also find that based upon the record before us, the Court cannot provide the meaningful review necessary to determine whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying defendant’s motion. Woodington v Shokoohi, 288 Mich App 352, 371; 792 NW2d 63 (2010).

The order of the trial court denying defendant’s motion to vacate support order pursuant to MCR 2.612(C)(1)(f) and to set aside all support enforcement orders is vacated. The issue of the applicability of MCR 2.612(C) to defendant’s case is remanded to the trial court for an articulation of its reasoning. We do not retain jurisdiction.