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In re Marriage of Gross

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Second Division

March 10, 2016

In re the Marriage of Cari Amanda Gross, n/k/a Cari Amanda Rohrich, Appellant, and Michael David Gross, Appellee

          Chaffee County District Court No. 07DR75. Honorable Charles M. Barton, Judge.

         Lewis Roca Rothgerber, LLP, Kenneth F. Rossman, IV, Denver, Colorado, for Appellant.

         Michael David Gross, Pro se.

          OPINION

         ASHBY, JUDGE.

          [¶1] In this post-dissolution of marriage child support dispute, Cari Amanda Gross, now known as Cari Amanda Rohrich (mother), appeals from the district court's order terminating the child support obligation of Michael David Gross (father) as of the date the parties had agreed that he would seek to relinquish his parental rights to permit the parties' two children to be adopted by mother's new husband. We conclude that the court erred in finding that the agreement for father to relinquish his parental rights retroactively ended his duty to support his children. We further conclude that the court erred in applying section 14-10-122(5), C.R.S. 2015, to these circumstances because no change in father's physical care for the children occurred. We reverse the district court's order and remand the case for further proceedings.

         I. Background

          [¶2] Mother's and father's marriage ended in 2008. Parenting time for their two children was allocated equally between them on an alternating weekly basis, and father was ordered to pay mother $101 in monthly child support. In 2012, mother sought and was granted permission to relocate with the children to South Dakota with her husband. Father's monthly child support obligation was thereafter increased to $288.

          [¶3] After the county child support enforcement unit moved in 2013 to again modify father's child support obligation, the parties mediated and reached an agreement that father would relinquish his parental rights and the children would be adopted by mother's husband.

          [¶4] In November 2013, father petitioned the juvenile court under section 19-5-103, C.R.S. 2015, to relinquish his parental rights.[1] His petition was granted May 22, 2014. In June 2014, he moved in the dissolution court to terminate his child support obligation as of the date the parties had agreed that he would pursue relinquishment.

          [¶5] The district court granted father's motion and terminated his child support obligation as of July 29, 2013, the date mother had indicated she would accept his proposal to relinquish his parental rights. The court relied on section 14-10-122(5) and ruled that father's parent-child relationship effectively ended, and mother took sole physical care of the children, when the parties agreed to pursue the relinquishment and adoption scenario.

         II. Contentions on Appeal

          [¶6] Mother raises primarily two arguments for reversal of the district court's order. First, she contends the court erred in finding that father was " effectively no longer a parent" as of the date he and mother agreed that he would relinquish his rights, and that as a nonparent, he had no duty to support the children from the date of the relinquishment agreement. Specifically, mother argues that father's nonparent status, and the termination of his duty of support, must be determined under section 19-5-104(5), C.R.S. 2015, of the Colorado Children's Code, which provides that the final relinquishment order divests the relinquishing parent of legal rights and obligations with respect to a child. Second, and alternatively, she contends that the district court erred in retroactively terminating father's child support payments under section 14-10-122(5) of the Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act (UDMA).

          [¶7] To the extent the district court found that father became a nonparent at any point before the final relinquishment order was entered, we agree that the court erred in doing so. As to mother's second contention, we further conclude that the court erred by applying section 14-10-122(5) under these circumstances. Accordingly, we reverse the order and remand the case for the court to recalculate the amount of father's child support arrearages.

         III. ...


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