When Reconciliation Trumps Child Support

George Vargas and Allyson Helgestad never married but from 2005 to 2009, they lived together. During that time, they had two children. In October, 2009, they separated and Allyson filed a paternity action against George. To settle the paternity action, they signed an agreement admitting George's paternity, child custody to Allyson, visitation to George, and how much child support George would pay to Allyson. In 2010, they reconciled and George moved back in with Allyson and the children. He then began paying rent and contributed to other household expenses, but he no longer paid Allyson child support payments.

Sadly, the reconciliation did not last. Less than a year later, George moved out, and Allyson filed a court order for the back child support George did not pay when they were living together. George asked the trial court judge to give him credit for the rent and household expenses he paid in lieu of back child support. The trial court denied George's request for four reasons:

  1. George was not entitled to what is referred to as "Jackson credits" because those type of cases all involved compete changes of child custody, not reconciliation of the parties.

  2. George should have requested a change in his child support obligation as soon as he moved back in with Allyson.

  3. Under the California Family Code, he would only be entitled to relief if his agreement was temporary not permanent.

  4. Since he had to pay for a place to live anyway, he wasn't entitled to reimbursement for rent and/or household expenses when he moved back in with Allyson.

George appealed and the Appellate Court reversed the trial court's decision:

  1. Since the Jackson-type of cases were based on paying for the needs of the child, not who had sole custody; therefore, those cases did apply.

  2. California recognizes the importance of reconciliation in families, and to make people file for court orders before reconciling, would not help parties get back together.

  3. The trial court mis-read the section of the Family Code relied upon, and that section did not apply in this case.And,

  4. Since George had to have a place to live anyway, he would have to prove how much money he spent over and above what he needed to live to receive credit for child support payments.

Normally, in California, once child support is owed, it is always owed. It cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, and it does not end by a statute of limitations like most other debts. The "Jackson credit" cases are a very complicated aspect of the law, and need the understanding of a qualified family law specialist to use them.

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