Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Case Law Development: Child Support for Ward of a Divorced Couple Is Not Terminated When Ex-husband Withdraws as Guardian

The Indiana Supreme Court reversed a trial court's modification of child support in a case involving a couple who had become guardians of Wife's grandson from a prior marriage. Ten years after the guardianship was established, the couple divorced.  The trial court incorporated into its decree the parties' settlement agreement, in which the couple agreed to share custody of the grandson and Husband agreed to pay Wife for some of the expenses of raising the grandson. 

After the dissolution, Husband remarried, withdrew as guardian, and sought modification of the decree's section about payments for the benefit of the grandson. The trial court granted modification, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Indiana Supreme Court concluded that termination of guardianship was not grounds for modifying the dissolution decree.

The court rejected Wife's argument that Husband was in loco parentis to the grandson, and thus obligated to obigated to pay child support as if he were the father, reasoning:

...it makes little sense to require child support from a person in loco parentis when that status is temporary in nature and essentially voluntary. The stand-in parent would effectively be able to choose whether or not he or she should be required to pay child support simply by choosing to continue or discontinue the relationship. It also seems unwise to create a layer of financial risk for adults who voluntarily provide financial and emotional support to children not their own. Lastly, it is difficult to imagine imposing parallel obligations on the institutions (like juvenile courts or universities) to which in loco parentis is commonly deployed.

The court did, however, find that there were no grounds for modifying the decree.  The court considered whether the agreed payments were best characterized as maintenance, child support, or disposition of property, but concluded that, regardless of the characterization, "the termination of guardianship has little practical effect" as there were no grounds for modifying the dissolution decree under any one of these theories.

In re Marriage of Snow, Indiana Supreme Court (March 13, 2007)
Opinion on web (Last visited March 20, 2007 bgf)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/family_law/2007/03/case_law_develo_1.html

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