Sunday, December 8, 2013

Olmstead v. Ziegler case brief

Olmstead v. Ziegler case brief summary
42 P.3d 1102 (2002)

Appellant father filed a motion for an order modifying child support payable to appellee mother under Alaska R. Civ. P. 90.3. The Superior Court of the State of Alaska, First Judicial District, Juneau, determined that a modification of child support was not warranted, as the father, an attorney, was voluntarily underemployed and his earning capacity had not changed. The father appealed.

The parties were both attorneys, and at the time of the divorce they entered into a settlement agreement whereby neither party would pay child support, but the father would pay for the child's education expenses. Two years later, the father was failing in his attempt to be a solo practitioner and was earning just over $ 10,000 a year. He then decided to become a teacher.


  • The supreme court agreed with the trial court that the father's career change constituted voluntary underemployment, which did not necessarily justify a modification in child support, even if the career change was taken in good faith. 
  • Here the trial court established that the father took many steps, including closing his office and failing to keep regular business hours, that demonstrated his intent to downsize his practice. 
  • While the father repeatedly stated that he was simply a failure at law and was not capable of earning the average lawyer's salary, that claim was undermined by the fact that at one time he made over $53,000 a year. 
  • Thus, the trial court properly determined the father was voluntarily and unreasonably underemployed and that he was not working at his full capacity based upon his past earnings.
The decision of the superior court was affirmed.

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