Bowmaker v. Rollman (Nebraska 2021)
Principles of equity may guide a trial court in crafting a decision under specific circumstances in a child support case. The mother registered a Kansas divorce decree in Nebraska and then filed to modify it and for a finding of contempt against the father for a failure to pay support. Prior to hearing, the parties agreed to a parenting agreement that modified child support. The court approved the agreement pending resolution of several other issues. Prior to entry of the final order, the father filed to set aside the parenting agreement due to a significant decrease in his income. The trial court set aside the agreement but offered the mother the opportunity to do additional discovery about the father’s income. The mother did not so do, and in the final order, the court set support consistent with the father’s reduced income. The trial court also determined the father owed no arrearage. The mother appealed. The appellate court affirmed the order. On both appellate grounds, equitable principles justified the trial court’s decisions. The father had a significant downturn in his business due to COVID and his income decreasing significantly from the start of the action to the time he asked for the set aside. Under these circumstances, it was appropriate for the trial court to use its equitable powers to set aside its approval of the parenting agreement. The proceeding was not yet complete, and the trial court gave the mother the opportunity to conduct additional discovery. The appellate court also upheld the dismissal of the contempt. Under an agreement with the mother, the father had made payments outside of the child support obligation. Equity justified giving him credit for these payments against his child support obligation.