Category Archives: Child Support

Teen Sues Parents for Financial Support and Tuition

father daughter dispute conflictLast week we saw a flurry of news reports regarding Rachel Canning’s lawsuit against her parents for child support and school tuition. Much of the media focus has been on Rachel’s “bad girl behavior,” rather than the legal framework or claims in the case.

While details are scant, what we do know right now is that on March 4, 2014, Judge Peter Bogaard decided there was no exigent circumstance (emergency) that would require the immediate payment of financial support or high school tuition.

It looks like the court denied Rachel’s request for tuition because Rachel’s high school promised to cover the cost of her final semester. The judge also found no basis to order emergency financial support. This could be because Rachel’s basic needs are currently met – she’s living with her best friend’s parents (who are apparently funding her lawsuit), and she has a job and therefore, some independent income.

Judge Bogaard ordered Rachel and her parents to return on April 22, 2014 for a full hearing, which will likely include witness testimony and documentary evidence. At that hearing, the judge will decide the major issues in this case – whether Rachel’s parents must provide some financial support and/or pay her college tuition.

In most states, this type of lawsuit would not get very far because children are generally considered emancipated (independent from their parents) when they turn 18 and/or or finish high school. Once emancipated, a child is no longer legally entitled to his or her parents’ financial support. New Jersey is among a minority of states where age does not automatically confer an emancipated status.

Again, details of the legal claims in the case are few, but it seems safe to assume some portion of this legal battle will focus on whether or not Rachel is emancipated.

How Courts Decide if a Child Is Emancipated

New Jersey courts do consider a child’s age in determining emancipation, but age is certainly not the only factor that comes into play. Although there’s a presumption that a child becomes emancipated at the age of 18, this presumption can be rebutted (overcome) by showing that the child has not reached a truly independent status. (The query is different for deciding whether a child under 18 is emancipated).

Under a long line of New Jersey cases, courts in the Garden State will consider several factors when deciding whether an 18-year old is emancipated, including:

  • the child’s needs
  • the child’s interests
  • the child’s independent resources
  • the family’s reasonable expectations
  • the parents’ and the child’s financial abilities, and
  • any other factor the court believes is relevant to the decision.

(See Dolce v. Dolce, 383 N.J. 11, 18 (2007), citing Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982).) 

Covering College Tuition

If Judge Bogaard decides Rachel is emancipated, her parents’ duty to provide support ends. If not, the next decisions will focus on an amount for support and college tuition.

In New Jersey, there’s a strong trend towards requiring parents, if they are financially capable, to pay for college expenses. When making this decision, a judge will take several factors into account, including:

  • the reasonableness of the expectation for higher education
  • the amount sought by the child for the cost of the higher education
  • the parent’s ability to pay that cost
  • the relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child
  • both parents’ financial resources
  • the child’s commitment to, and aptitude for, the requested education
  • the child’s financial resources, including assets held individually or in custodianship or trust
  • the child’s ability to earn income during the school year or on vacation
  • the availability of financial aid in the form of college grants
  • the child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection, shared goals, and  responsiveness to parental advice and guidance, and
  • the relationship of the education sought to any prior training and to the child’s long-term goals.

In this case, the media has focused primarily on Rachel’s relationship to her parents and her responsiveness (or unresponsiveness) to their parental advice. While this is certainly an important factor, it’s only one of many the court may consider on April 22.

It’s impossible to read the tea leaves, and the judge seems to take issue with both sides. He’s been quoted as having admonished Rachel for her unruly behavior and her parents for how they handled the situation. NPR reports that the judge told the Cannings they “should have tried to get help for their daughter instead of cutting her off.”

So, despite reports implying Rachel lost her case, the major issues have yet to be determined. The April 22 hearing will be the one to watch in terms of understanding more about both sides’ legal claims and any precedent-setting outcomes from the New Jersey court.

See DivorceNet.com’s section on Child Support for more information about child support laws in your state.

 

Dealing with Deadbeats – How to Enforce Child Support

Sadly, many non-custodial parents refuse to pay court-ordered child support, which places a heavy financial burden on children and their custodial parents. In order to combat this, federal and state legislatures have enacted strict policies aimed at enforcing support. The nationwide crackdown on these “deadbeats” has made it more difficult for non-custodial parents to shirk financial obligations to their kids. Below, I’ll review some powerful enforcement tools available at the state and federal levels.

Establishing Child Support

State laws govern how child support is calculated, but most states rely on a specific formula that considers various factors, including parents’ incomes and time spent with each child. An experienced, local family law attorney will know how to file a request for child support on your behalf.

If you can’t afford an attorney, don’t give up hope. All states offer some child support services to help parents establish, enforce and collect child support. These government-sponsored child support offices are typically referred to as the “Office of Child Support Services” (OCSS) or “Department of Child Support Services” (DCSS). The “Getting Help” section below explains how to get in touch with your local OCSS.

For more information on calculating child support in your state, check out Divorcenet.com, which has an entire section dedicated to child support guidelines.

Ways to Enforce Child Support

Once established, a child support order must be obeyed. If not, custodial parents may ask an attorney or their local OCSS for help “encouraging” the delinquent parent to pay. Parents that fail to pay child support may be subject to severe penalties, including:

  • Wage Deductions – child support is taken directly out of the non-custodial parent’s wages.
  • Federal Income Tax Intercepts – the state can intercept a large tax refund to cover late or missing child support payments.
  • License Suspensions and Revocations – a driver’s license and professional license(s) may be revoked.
  • Passport Restrictions.
  • Contempt of Court – this is a court order that may result in a fine or jail time.

Federal Prosecution of Deadbeat Parents

The U.S. Office of the Inspector General (OIG) can intervene in child-support cases where the non-custodial parent lives in a state other than where the child lives, and:

  • refuses to pay child support for over one year
  • where the amount owing is more than $5000, or
  • where the non-custodial parent travels to another state or country to avoid paying child support.

The punishment includes fines and up to six months in prison (or both) for a first offense. For a second offense, or where child support hasn’t been paid for two years, or the support owed is more than $10,000, the punishment is a fine of up to $250,000 or two years in prison, or both.

Some of the most notorious deadbeat parents are also added to OIG’s Most Wanted Deadbeats list online.

“Project Save Our Children” (PSOC) is a multiagency task force dedicated to identifying, investigating and prosecuting the worst child support cases. PSOC goes after offenders who meet the criteria for federal prosecution under the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Acts. Its members are from the Administration for Children and Families, the Office of Child Support Enforcement, OIG Special Agents, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice.

Getting Help

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Child Support Enforcement website has a lot of useful information about child support and an OCSS search tool that provides contact information for offices in all 50 states and D.C.

Judge Makes Budget for Dad Who Owes $14,000 Child Support

A judge in rural Clinton County, New York, has decided that one deadbeat dad lacks appropriate budgeting skills, and has handed the dad, called Thomas M., a list of items he is forbidden from purchasing until he has repaid $14,000 in child support arrearages to his ex-wife on behalf of their two daughters. Thomas can’t buy cigarettes or alcohol, nor can he buy a hunting or fishing license or any other item that the judge considers not to be a necessity of life. He must have the Probation Department’s written permission to purchase certain other items, including furniture and clothing. Thomas’s lawyer questioned whether the judge had authority to make such an order, but the broad language of the applicable law certainly gives him a lot of leeway. Maybe if more dads were kept away from their internet service, hunting licenses, and restaurant dinners, there wouldn’t be $12.6 billion in child support arrearages.