Reasonable Child Support Costs for Education

Mother [M] and Father [F] were never married, but shared a child together [C].  M was legally granted both legal and physical custody of [C] via a court order in 2015.  F was ordered to pay M child support for one-half of C’s living expenses.  F did so.

M was providing for her half of C’s financial welfare by working 28 hours a week as a legal receptionist and occasional opportunities to act as a notary public.  She was provided with public housing, food stamps and a monetary stipend with public assistance from the Sonoma County Department of Child Support Services [DCSS].  The assistance allowed her to obtain child care for C so she could work.

M was aware that she would never be self sufficient without improving her education and job skills, so she went back into court and requested that F’s child support be increased under California Family Code Section 4062.  She wanted to go back to school and earn her paralegal certificate and increase her computer skills.  She wanted F’s support increased to pay for the additional child care costs while she attended classes.

At trial, F argued that M was not entitled to additional child support under Section 4062, because [M] was already employed with her existing job skills and she was not required by her employer to increase her knowledge and skills.  Becoming a paralegal was her personal choice unrelated to Section 4062, where the amount of child support is based on “…employment or [is] reasonably necessary [to improve one’s] education or training for employment skills….”

California’s Family Code Section 4062 states that a court shall order as additional child support, reasonable costs related to employment or necessary education and/or training.

The DCSS asked to be included in the court’s determination, and requested that issues be resolved in determining “reasonableness” of an education for training for support.

The court agreed with F and stated “[section 4062] does not require one parent to share in the childcare costs incurred for the other parent to pursue an education to expand their existing employment skills where the requesting parent has existing marketable skills that they are currently using to obtain employment or are capable of using even if they are being underutilized.”

M appealed, and the Appellate Court agreed with M.

When determining the intent of a statute, the court must look to the intent of the legislature that wrote the statute.  If the statute is unambiguous, then the court’s interpretation must be unambiguous.

“The statute sets forth no qualifying limitations [regarding that increased support be based on current employment].  Rather, it directs a trial court to consider a parent’s request for childcare costs incurred while that parent is pursuing ‘reasonably necessary education or training for employment skills.’  The Legislature could easily have chosen to insert a qualifying term, for example limiting the provision to the requirements of a parent’s current employment, but it did not.  …We may not, under the guise of construction, rewrite the law or give the words an effect different from the plain and direct import of the terms used.”

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