THE SUPREME COURT OF THE
FEDERATES STATES OF MICRONESIA
Cite as Youngstrom v. Youngstrom ,
7 FSM Intrm. 34 (App. 1995)
APPEAL CASE NO. P2-1994
Argued: January 16, 1995
Decided: February 16, 1995
Hon. Martin G. Yinug, Associate Justice, FSM Supreme Court
Hon. Lyndon L. Cornelius, Temporary Justice, FSM Supreme Court*
Hon. Alfred T. Goodwin, Temporary Justice, FSM Supreme Court**
*Chief Justice, Kosrae State Court, Lelu, Kosrae
**Senior Judge, United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
For the Appellant: Matt Mix, Esq.
P.O. Box 143
Kolonia, Pohnpei FM 96941
For the Appellee: Daniel J. Berman, Esq.
Rush, Moore, Craven, Sutton, Morry & Beh
2000 Hawaii Tower
745 Fort Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
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Federalism ) Abstention and Certification
National courts are not required to certify to state courts state law issues of first impression. Whether to certify a question to state court is left to the sound discretion of the trial court on a case by case basis. Youngstrom v. Youngstrom, 7 FSM Intrm. 34, 36 (App. 1995).
Federalism ) Abstention and Certification
A most important issue in determining whether to certify an issue to state court is whether it will result in undue delay and whether that delay will prejudice a party. Youngstrom v. Youngstrom, 7 FSM
Intrm. 34, 36 (App. 1995).
Appeal and Certiorari ) Standard of Review; Domestic Relations
Factual determinations of a trial court, such as the appropriate size and period for an award of child support, will be overturned on appeal only if the findings of the trial court are clearly erroneous. Youngstrom v. Youngstrom, 7 FSM Intrm. 34, 36 (App. 1995).
Citation to other cases is of limited assistance in framing an award for child support because a child support award is an inherently fact specific determination that must be made on a case by case basis. Youngstrom v. Youngstrom, 7 FSM Intrm. 34, 37 (App. 1995).
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Vernon Youngstrom initiated this action in August of 1990, seeking confirmation of a customary divorce from News Youngstrom, who counterclaimed for child support. The trial division entered a decree of divorce and awarded News Youngstrom prospective as well as retroactive child support,1 back to January of 1989. Vernon appeals, and his wife cross appeals.
Vernon Youngstrom filed this action in the trial division of the FSM Supreme Court, seeking confirmation of a customary divorce from News Youngstrom. She counterclaimed, seeking child support for five children, all admitted to be the offspring of Vernon. Approximately fifteen (15) months after filing his answer to the counterclaim, Vernon moved to certify questions to the Kosrae Supreme Court regarding the scope of a father's obligation to pay child support. News Youngstrom then filed her motion for child support, pendente lite, pursuant to 6 F.S.M.C. 1754.
The trial division denied Vernon's motion for certification on two independent grounds. First, the trial court held that the law of Pohnpei, not Kosrae, was applicable to the case, and, thus, certification to the Kosrae State Court would be inappropriate. Youngstrom v. Youngstrom, 5 FSM Intrm. 335, 337 (Pon. 1992). Second, the trial court concluded that, in light of the fifteen month delay between Appellant's answer and his motion, Appellant's motion was interposed for the purpose of delay, and thus was barred by the doctrine of laches. Id. at 338. The Court granted Appellee's motion for child support, pendente lite, awarding $30.00 per child per month
In January of 1993, Appellant filed a second motion for certification, this time to the Pohnpei Supreme Court, seeking to certify the question of whether a father may be ordered to pay retroactive child support under Pohnpei law. The trial division did not directly rule upon the second motion for certification. Rather, the court proceeded to try the case without certifying the requested question, in effect denying the motion. The trial court held that Pohnpei law allows retroactive child support orders. The trial court then made the pendente lite award permanent, granting Appellee $30.00 per child per month in future child support and granting the Appellee the same monthly award in retroactive child
support from January of 1989.
Certification to the Pohnpei Supreme Court
Appellant contends that the trial court erred in ruling upon the question whether Pohnpei law permits the award of retroactive child support, an issue of first impression. Appellant contends that this state law issue of first impression should have been certified to the Pohnpei Supreme Court, thereby allowing the state court to make the first ruling on the issue.
State law issues of first impression do not require the National Courts to certify those questions to the state court. Pryor v. Moses, 4 FSM Intrm. 138, 141 (Pon. 1989). The decision whether to certify a question to state court is left to the sound discretion of the trial court. Id. In deciding whether to certify a question to a state court, an evaluation must be made on a case by case basis. One of the most important issues in determining whether a question should be certified is whether certification will result in undue delay and whether that delay will prejudice any party. See Ponape Transfer & Storage v. Federated Shipping Co., 4 FSM Intrm. 37, 45-46 (Pon. 1989) (instructing that the court should consider whether prejudice or excessive delay will result from certification). The issue of delay is particularly relevant in this case as the trial court found that Appellant's first motion for certification to the Kosrae State Court was interposed solely for the purpose of delaying the award of child support. Youngstrom, 5 FSM Intrm. at 337.
Appellant's second motion for certification, this time to the Pohnpei Supreme Court, was filed more than one year after the first motion for certification. In light of the trial court's finding that the first motion for certification was filed for the purpose of delay, there is no reason to believe that the purpose of the second motion for certification was any different. Furthermore, whatever the purpose of the Appellant's certification motion, the trial court knew that certification would have further delayed a final award of child support. Appellee had already been waiting, at the time of the motion, for more than two years for an award of child support. Further delay was a sound basis for denying the motion.
Counsel for Appellant, during oral argument, said that this action was filed in the National Court rather than state court in the hope that this court would provide an expedited confirmation of his divorce from Appellee. Appellant now seeks to deny Appellee that same right to a speedy resolution of her counterclaim by arguing that the National Court should not exercise jurisdiction over a central issue in this case, a case which Appellant chose of his own free will to bring in this forum. Appellant selected the National Court and now cannot contend, for the purpose of delaying a final award of child support, that the Pohnpei Supreme Court is the only proper forum to resolve the issues surrounding his divorce from Appellee. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Appellant's motion for certification to the Pohnpei Supreme Court.
Adequacy of Child Support Award
Appellee cross appeals the adequacy of the trial court's $30.00 per child per month child support award as well as the trial court's decision to award retroactive support from 1989 onward, rather than from 1984, when the parties separated.
In making an award of child support, the trial court must evaluate the facts of each case to make an award which the court "deems justice and the best interests of all concerned may require." 39 TTC 103. Factual determinations of the trial court, such as the appropriate size and period for an award of child support, will be overturned on appeal only if the findings of the trial court are clearly erroneous. Ray v. Electrical Contracting Corp., 2 FSM Intrm. 21, 24 (App. 1985); FSM Civ. R. 52(a).
Appellee cites several Pohnpei cases in which the awards of child support were higher than the trial court's award in this case. However, citation to other cases is of limited assistance in framing an award for child support. A child support award is an inherently fact specific determination that must be made on a case by case basis. The record in this case does not contain any information that would lead this Court to find that the ruling of the trial court was clearly erroneous as to either the appropriate period of retroactive support or the amount of monthly support.
Accordingly, the rulings of the trial court are affirmed in all respects.
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