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Galbis v. Nadal

July 29, 1999


Before Terry, Steadman, and Schwelb, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge:

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Zinora M. Mitchell-Rankin, Trial Judge)

Argued June 9, 199

Appellant Ricardo Galbis appeals from an order of the trial court denying his motions to reduce child support and to allow his son to visit Cuba with him and providing that all overnight visits must include an adult caretaker for the child. *fn1 He argues that the court's factual findings were clearly erroneous and that the court therefore abused its discretion in denying his motions. Appellant also contends that the court erred in refusing to consider any evidence regarding his business expenses for the years 1992 through 1995 as a sanction for his failure to comply with several discovery requests and orders. We affirm.


A. Background

Ricardo Galbis, M.D., and Vilma Y. Nadal, Ph.D., are the parents of a minor son, Ricardo José Galbis, who is now fourteen years old. On November 14, 1989, in response to Dr. Nadal's complaint for custody and support, the court issued a temporary order requiring Dr. Galbis to pay $1,048 per month in child support, plus the full costs of private school tuition ($200 per month) and mental health therapy ($387 per month), and to maintain health insurance for his son. The child support figure was based, in part, upon Dr. Galbis' annual gross income of $144,000 ($89,416 net) and Dr. Nadal's annual gross income of $27,816 ($19,284 net). *fn2

On April 16, 1990, the court entered a permanent order granting the parties joint custody of their son. Dr. Nadal was awarded primary physical custody and final decision-making authority; Dr. Galbis was granted weekend and summer visitation with the requirement that his housekeeper, Myra Hernandez, or another adult with child care experience be present during any overnight visits. The order further provided that both parties must agree before the son could travel to Cuba with his father. In addition, addressing Dr. Nadal's concerns that Dr. Galbis was an unsafe driver, that he sometimes would drive after drinking alcohol, and that his convertible lacked seat belts, the court permitted Dr. Galbis to transport Ricardo José in a car only if the child was wearing a seat belt. The court also limited such travel to the District of Columbia and places within a twenty-five mile radius of the District.

On August 16, 1991, the court entered another order requiring Dr. Galbis to pay $2,471 per month in child support and one-half of his son's school and summer camp tuition, and to maintain health and life insurance for the benefit of his son until he reaches the age of majority. The child support figure was calculated under the statutory child support guideline, D.C. Code § 16-916.1 (1997), using the father's average gross income for 1989 and 1990 and his projected income for 1991 ($175,471.40), the mother's gross income ($32,016), and the child's monthly expenses ($2,084).

The August 16 order also addressed the parties' cross-motions for modification of the custody order. Finding that Dr. Nadal had demonstrated changed circumstances, that the parties had failed to achieve any degree of cooperation concerning the care of their son, and that the existing joint custody arrangement was not in the best interests of the child, the court awarded sole custody to Dr. Nadal. Dr. Galbis was granted liberal visitation rights, but the overnight supervision requirement, the limitation on travel to Cuba, and the driving restrictions were not changed. *fn3

On December 19, 1991, ruling on Dr. Galbis' motion for reconsideration, the court found that payment of one-half of Ricardo José's tuition was a redundant obligation because the tuition expense had already been included in calculating the amount of child support. Accordingly, the court reduced the monthly payment by $333, leaving a total monthly payment of $2,138.

Dr. Galbis appealed from the August 16 and December 19 orders, and this court affirmed them both. Galbis v. Nadal, 626 A.2d 26 (D.C. 1993) ("Galbis I").

B. The Present Dispute

On February 21, 1995, Dr. Galbis through counsel moved to reduce his child support payments, arguing that because of a "drastic reduction in income," his monthly support obligation no longer comported with the child support guideline. About two months later, on April 17, Dr. Galbis pro se moved for permission to take his son to visit his grandmother (Dr. Galbis' mother, who was then ninety-one) in Cuba and to eliminate the caretaker requirement for overnight visits. The motions were consolidated and set for a hearing on July 25.

Before the hearing could be held, however, Dr. Nadal served Dr. Galbis with interrogatories and requests for production of documents, including tax returns and financial statements. Two months later, after Dr. Galbis had failed to respond fully to the discovery requests, Dr. Nadal moved to compel discovery and asked for sanctions. *fn4

When the case came on for a hearing on July 25, the court quickly recognized that Dr. Nadal was unable to proceed on the motion to reduce child support until the outstanding discovery issues were resolved. The parties agreed to work toward a resolution and to continue the hearing on the motions to compel discovery and reduce child support until October. Also, by agreement of the parties, the hearing on Dr. Galbis' pro se motions was continued until the next day, July 26. Finally, with counsel present, the court met with Ricardo José in an "off-the-record" session in chambers. Later the same day the parties met again in an "off-the-record" session and, in light of the court's Discussions with the child, established a ...

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