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Gonzales-Alpizar v. Griffith

Supreme Court of Nevada

January 30, 2014

Gabriela GONZALES-ALPIZAR, Appellant/Cross-Respondent,
v.
Edwin GRIFFITH, Respondent/Cross-Appellant.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Richard F. Cornell, Reno, for Appellant/Cross-Respondent.

Kristi Beth Luna, Reno, for Respondent/Cross-Appellant.

BEFORE THE COURT EN BANC.

OPINION

HARDESTY, J.:

In this appeal, we address whether a spousal and child support order entered by a family court in Costa Rica is enforceable in Nevada. The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), as enacted in Nevada, allows for the enforcement of a foreign support order when the order is entered in a country that is a recognized " state" under NRS Chapter 130. UIFSA sets forth three different methods by which a foreign country may be considered a " state" for purposes of enforcing that country's support orders. The first method clearly does not apply here, and we determine that neither of the other two methods authorizes the court to consider Costa Rica a state for UIFSA purposes. Pursuant to the second method, the Nevada Attorney General, under NRS 130.035(1), has not declared Costa Rica a foreign country in which reciprocal provisions will be made ensuring the enforceability of foreign support orders. Further, under the third method, the record fails to demonstrate, pursuant to NRS 130.10179(2)(a), that Costa Rica follows enforcement procedures that are " substantially similar" to those established under UIFSA. Accordingly, UIFSA does not require the district court to enforce the order.

In addition to UIFSA, however, a foreign support order may be enforced under the doctrine of comity. We determine that, because the existence of the parties' premarital agreement was not disclosed to the Costa Rican court issuing the support order, the award for spousal support should not be recognized in Nevada as a matter of comity. The child support award may be recognized, however, and we remand for the district court to make factual findings on Griffith's claim that the child support was obtained through fraud because Gonzales-Alpizar misrepresented Griffith's income and assets to the Costa Rican court.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Respondent/cross-appellant Edwin Griffith, a resident of Reno, met appellant/cross-respondent Gabriela Gonzales-Alpizar, a citizen and native of Costa Rica, when he went to Costa Rica to visit friends. In 1999, the two were married in Costa Rica. Prior to the marriage, the parties entered into a premarital agreement prepared by Griffith's counsel and signed by both Gonzales-Alpizar and her counsel Maria Fait-Shaw in Costa Rica. Among other provisions, the premarital agreement waived any claim for alimony or spousal support, unless the divorce resulted in one party becoming eligible for public assistance support. It also provided that the

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laws of the State of Nevada would govern the premarital agreement's execution and performance, without regard to where the parties resided.

After the parties were married, they returned to Reno with Gonzales-Alpizar's daughter Nicolle. Shortly thereafter, Gonzales-Alpizar gave birth to a son, Anthony Griffith-Gonzalez. Griffith and Gonzales-Alpizar resided in Reno for over three years. In 2002, their relationship began to deteriorate.

The family traveled to Costa Rica in February 2003, but Gonzales-Alpizar refused to return to Reno. Griffith returned alone, leaving Gonzales-Alpizar and the two children in Costa Rica. Griffith subsequently visited Costa Rica twice in 2003 and once in 2004. Griffith returned to Costa Rica one last time in February 2005, and the parties met to discuss a divorce settlement.

Procedural history in Costa Rica

2005 Costa Rican spousal and child support order

At the commencement of the parties' divorce settlement discussions in Costa Rica, Griffith was allegedly served with notice and process of a Demand for Alimony, which as explained by Gonzales-Alpizar includes spousal and child support under Costa Rican law. The parties dispute what occurred and whether Griffith was actually served with process. According to Gonzales-Alpizar, after both she and her attorney explained to Griffith that he was being served with legal documents regarding alimony and child support, Griffith became very angry, threw the papers to the floor, and immediately left. According to Griffith, however, a stranger approached him in the waiting room of the attorney's office and read aloud from paperwork in Spanish. Griffith did not understand what the person was saying, and Gonzales-Alpizar refused to respond to his multiple requests to explain what was happening. He left the office with no paperwork and no explanation in English as to what was said. Gonzales-Alpizar's version is supported by a Costa Rican court officer's affidavit asserting that she served the Demand for Alimony upon Griffith in an attorney's office, Griffith understood what the documents were, he refused to receive them, and he left immediately.

Based on this alleged service and Griffith's failure to answer the complaint in a Costa Rican court, a default judgment was entered against Griffith in September 2005, which ordered him to pay $180 per month in spousal support, $235 per month in child support for Anthony, and an additional $235 per month in child support for Nicolle (2005 Costa Rican support order).[1] The support award was based on Gonzales-Alpizar's representation of ...


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