Heard: January 12, 2018.
Complaint for divorce filed in the Plymouth Division of the
Probate and Family Court Department on March 2, 1998. A
complaint for modification, filed on February 19, 2016, was
heard by Lisa A. Roberts, J.
Patricia Michaels-Hamilton for the husband.
Foskett for the wife.
Present: Vuono, Agnes, & McDonough, JJ.
an appeal from a judgment dismissing a complaint for
retroactive modification of a child support order. The
complaint was filed by Andrew J. Costa (father) to terminate
his child support obligation to his former wife, Lisa Bobblis
(mother), for one of their two children. As we discuss in
more detail below, pursuant to a separation agreement that
was incorporated into the judgment of divorce, the father was
required to pay child support until the child became
emancipated. The agreement provided that emancipation would
occur at the age of twenty-three if the child attended
college or other accredited post high school training or
education. The agreement further stated that emancipation
would occur if the child entered the military. The child in
question attended college as a full-time student and joined
the United States Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)
at the beginning of his junior year. The father claims that
joining the ROTC is the equivalent of entering the military
and, as a result, the child was emancipated at the time his
participation in the ROTC program began. Consequently, the
father argues, his child support obligation terminated at the
beginning of the child's junior year of college.
Following a trial at which both parties appeared pro se, a
judge of the Probate and Family Court rejected the
father's argument. In a well-reasoned memorandum of
decision, the judge ruled that the child was not emancipated
by virtue of his enrollment in the ROTC and dismissed the
father's complaint. We affirm.
summarize the undisputed material facts as
follows. After eleven years of marriage, the
parties divorced in 2000 pursuant to a divorce judgment that
incorporated the parties' separation agreement. The
mother had physical custody of both children. The parties
agreed that the father would pay weekly child support
"until the emancipation of all the children." They
further agreed that a child's emancipation would occur
upon the earliest of certain future events, of which only two
are relevant here: first, "if the child attends college
or other accredited post-high school training or education,
emancipation shall be at age 23 or such time as the child
completes such training or education"; or second, upon
"[e]ntry by the child into the military."
August of 2012, the child enrolled at Springfield College. He
received a scholarship award from the college and also
obtained a number of educational loans. In addition,
through its long-standing ROTC program, the Army awarded him
a scholarship beginning in his junior year of college.
Following his graduation in May of 2016, the Army
commissioned him as an officer, assigned him to its field
artillery branch, and ordered him to report for duty at Fort
Sill in Oklahoma.
was held on September 23, 2016. Both parties presented their
respective cases and offered uncontested documentary
evidence. Those documents included an ROTC
enlistment document and an ROTC scholarship cadet contract
cadet contract), both signed by the child and an Army
official. The documents were interlinked: both made reference
to the other, for purposes of supplying details of his
participation in the ROTC college program as well as his
later military service (if any) in the Army.
memorandum of decision, the judge referred to the ROTC
documents, indicating how each confirmed the distinction
between the ROTC program, which provided some specialized
training to a student cadet, and the military service that an
ROTC cadet formally commits to undertake upon graduation.
Based on the ROTC documents, Federal statutory law, and
relevant case law (including reported decisions of other
State courts), the judge concluded that the child did not
become emancipated by virtue of his participation in the
review a judge's decision denying or allowing
modification of a child support order for abuse of
discretion. See Lizardov.Ortega,
91 Mass.App.Ct. 687, 691-692 (2017); Wassonv.Wasson, 81 Mass.App.Ct. 574, 576
(2012).An abuse of discretion may be found where a
trial judge has made a clear error in weighing the relevant
factors for a modification, so that the "decision falls
outside the range of reasonable alternatives."
L.L. v.Commonwealth, 470 Mass.
169, 185 n.27 (2014). A judge's interpretation of the
meaning of a term or ...