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Child Support – Modification

WI Court of Appeals – District IV

Case Name: Sarah M. Reed v. Christopher T. Pappathopoulos

Case No.: 2019AP801

Officials: Blanchard, Graham, and Nashold, JJ.

Focus: Child Support – Modification

Sarah Reed and Christopher Pappathopoulos were divorced in 2016 following a bench trial on issues that included child support. During the trial, Reed asked the circuit court to calculate the amount of child support using the parties’ base salaries only, without considering other sources of income such as Reed’s bonus or Pappathopoulos’s side jobs. Reed introduced an exhibit with her proposed calculation, and Pappathopoulos’s attorney later stated, “We’re going to accept [Reed’s] child support calculation ….”

In early 2018, Reed reported that she had received a substantial bonus and other miscellaneous income that significantly increased her total 2017 income from what it had been at the time of trial. Pappathopoulos filed a motion asking the circuit court to modify child support to reflect Reed’s total 2017 income, and the court dismissed the motion by written order issued April 5, 2019. The court asserted that Pappathopoulos had “stipulated to child support being calculated on base salaries only” at the time of the divorce, and that it was not equitable to relieve him from his stipulation. In this appeal, Pappathopoulos argues that there was no stipulation and that the court erred by dismissing his motion based on equitable estoppel.

We conclude that, even if the on-the-record statements by Pappathopoulos’s trial attorney are properly characterized as a stipulation to Reed’s proposed framework for calculating child support, they cannot be reasonably interpreted as an agreement that the parties were giving up the statutory right to seek a future modification based on a substantial change in bonus or side income of either party. Thus, the circuit court erred when it dismissed the motion based on equitable estoppel. Further, the court did not determine whether there was a substantial change in circumstances justifying a child support modification, and there is no other basis in the record to affirm the circuit court’s denial of the motion. Therefore, we reverse the order and remand for the court to consider that question now, consistent with this opinion.

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Derek A Hawkins is trademark corporate counsel for Harley-Davidson. Hawkins oversees the prosecution and maintenance of the Harley-Davidson’s international trademark portfolio in emerging markets.

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