Third Party Child Support Reimbursement

Mother [M] and Father [F] Father married and had one child together, a Son [S] born in 1997.  They separated and divorced in 2006.  At the time, F had approximately 70 percent of S’s custody and M had 30 percent.  Based on state “guidelines”, of percentage of custodial time and income of the parties, M was awarded child support from F in the amount of $400.00 per month.

Shortly thereafter, M moved in with her boyfriend [B].  S continued to live mainly with F, and visit with M.

In 2011, M and F agreed to a custody change, and S moved in with M and B.  M and F discussed a change in child support, but none was never ordered.  (At trial, M would argue that she did not request a change in child support because F threatened to leave the country with S if she did so.) S continued to live with them until he graduated from high school in 2015.  At no time was child support ever increased from the original $400.00 per month.  Further, at no time was F ever late in paying S’s child support and maintaining him on F’s medical insurance plan.

In 2016, B filed a petition against F for child support reimbursement based on Family Code Section 3950.  This section states: “If a parent neglects to provide articles necessary for the parent’s child who is under the charge of the parent, according to the circumstances of the parent, a third person may in good faith supply the necessaries and recover their reasonable value from the parent.”

B served form interrogatories (form questions) on F to provide B with F’s tax returns and current financial situation.  F refused claiming they were his private business.  B requested the court order F to supply B with the information requested.  The trial court denied B’s request, stating that F’s financial affairs were his private business.

At trial for reimbursement, F argued that he did not owe B any money because he paid his child support as ordered to M.  B argued that under section 3950, a mere $400 per month was not enough to support a child for his necessities, and thus, F was neglecting his child.  The trial court agreed with F, that F’s financial obligation toward his child ended with his court ordered child support.   If the support was not enough, M could have gone back into court and had the amount increased.

B appealed.

The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court:

“[Both] the father and mother of a minor child have an equal responsibility to support their child in the manner suitable to the child’s circumstances.  [F] was performing his duty under the law, paying his obligation pursuant to the operative child support order.  [M] could have, and should have, sought modification of the child support order in the dissolution action, upon a showing of a material change of circumstances… [when S moved in with M and B] full time.”

Regarding M’s fear that F would kidnap S, again, M could have requested help from the court system.  If she could not have afforded an attorney, she could have received help from the family court facilitator system at no charge.

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