California Court Addresses Issue of First Impression in Child Support Case

balance-875413-m.jpgChild support is an important part of most family law cases involving minor children. Courts will order child support not only in divorce cases, but in paternity actions as well. Section 3900 of the California family code governs child support and provides, in part, that both the mother and father of a minor child have an equal responsibility to support their child. The code further provides that this obligation continues generally until the child completes 12th grade or attains the age of 19 years, whichever occurs first. But in many cases, one parent may not be satisfied with the child support order and file an objection with the court. There are important legal concepts at play in any child support case. If you are involved in a divorce or paternity matter, it is important to contact an experienced family law attorney from the local San Diego area, someone who can help sort through the myriad issues with ease and confidence.

In a recent California child support case, a couple lived together and had two children but never married. When they separated, the couple stipulated to a paternity action judgment, which set forth the father’s paternity, his visitation rights, and a monthly monetary child support payment to be made to the mother, who was awarded physical custody of the kids. A bit later on, the couple reconciled and the father moved into the residence where the mother and children had been living. But after nine months, the father moved out. The court was asked to determine a matter of first impression in the state: whether a father can obtain any credit for actual, in-the-home child support he afforded the children during the nine-month period he lived with them and their mother?

Under established case law in California, had the original support order stemmed from a marital action, such as a divorce proceeding, the court pointed out that there would be no question that the father would be entitled to such credit. But the court found no California case addressing this issue in the context of a paternity action. The trial court concluded that the father was not entitled to credit because this action did not stem from a divorce proceeding and also because there was no complete reversal of custody. Instead, the court stated that there was a period of shared custody and cohabitation in an attempt at reconciliation.

The court of appeals reversed the decision, but not until after a lengthy review of relevant case law inside and outside the state of California. Ultimately, the court held that an “equity approach,” permitting credit for support actually given during a period of cohabitation, is one that is best in sync with current California case law and the existing statutory scheme. The court concluded that the trial court erred in ruling that the father was ineligible for credit and remanded the case back to that court to consider the father’s request for such credit.

This is an important case affecting child support issues in paternity actions. And it illustrates the notion that family law in California is continuously evolving. An experienced, local family law attorney would be up-to-date with the current state of the law in an effort to advise clients accordingly. Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties in family law matters for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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