California Court Precludes Ex-Wife’s Challenge of Child Support Arrearage and Attorney Fees

The California Family Code and other portions of state law govern many aspects of a divorce proceeding. Courts in this state are empowered to issue any number of orders affecting the parties’ rights to items such as marital property, spousal support, and child support. It should come as no surprise that couples who are going through the divorce process must adhere to many of the procedural and substantive legal requirements set forth under these laws. In order to best protect your rights, you are encouraged to contact an experienced family law attorney from the local San Diego area, who can guide you every step of the way.

The failure to comply with certain legal requirements can negatively affect your rights in a case. In a recent court decision, In re Marriage of Wisniewska, the parties lived in Poland at the time of their divorce. As one would assume, various court proceedings concerning the couple’s divorce took place in Poland, and the divorce judgment was filed there on October 21, 2010. At the time, they had two adult children living in the United States and one minor child who still lived with them in Poland. In March 2011, the husband filed papers to register an out-of-state support order in the San Mateo County Superior Court, where his ex-wife now lived, in order to enforce the divorce judgment.

It seems that the wife was the “non-custodial parent” and obligated to pay child support under the Polish divorce decree. She opposed the notice of registration, arguing that she was awaiting a ruling from a Polish court on her motion to modify the amount of child support. The trial court granted the husband’s request and registered the Polish decision. By virtue of this decision, a case was opened with the County’s Department of Child Support Services, which in turn determined that the wife owed more than $8,000 in child support. The husband took certain legal steps to enforce the support order, which the wife opposed. In response, the husband sought attorney fee sanctions under ยง 271 of the California Family Code.

The trial court ruled in favor of the husband and granted the attorney fees as sanctions. The wife appealed, arguing that her husband had no standing to enforce the Polish decision because their daughter turned 18 years old in October 2011. Essentially, she claimed that the support proceeds belonged to their daughter once she turned 18, not the husband. The court of appeals concluded that the wife was barred from raising the issue of standing at this point in the proceedings. The court pointed out that the child was already 18 when the husband first sought to enforce the child support arrearage pursuant to the Polish registered decision. The wife appeared to have had many opportunities to raise the issue of standing but failed to do so.

Here, the court refused to grant the wife and mother any relief due to her failure to adequately raise an issue before the court at the proper time in the proceedings. While this is an unpublished decision, and parties may not rely on or cite to it in future cases, the underlying principle is a significant one: parties to divorce cases must have a thorough appreciation of the legal requirements applicable to their case. One of the best ways to address this is to consult with an experienced family law attorney.

Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties in family law matters for more than 20 years. Doppelt and Forney, APLC serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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