California Court Rules that Child Support Order Was Nullified by Parents' Subsequent Marriage to Each Other

August 16, 2012
By Thomas M. Huguenor on August 16, 2012 9:42 AM |

442705_38979230.jpgA child support order between unmarried parents was nullified when the parents married each other, according to the California Court of Appeals for the Fourth Appellate District. In Re Marriage of Wilson and Bodine involved a challenge by a father to the state's assertion that he owed child support under an order, entered before the parents were married, for a period of time after the parties subsequently separated and divorced. The appeals court held that the parties' marriage to each other nullified the prior order, and remanded the case to the trial court to calculate the amount of pre-marriage child support owed.

The mother and father had a son in August 2001. They were not married to one another at the time. After the father filed a voluntary declaration of paternity, the mother obtained a court order under the same cause number for the father to pay $1,600 per month in child support in July 2002. The court further granted the mother full custody and gave reasonable visitation rights to the father. A daughter was born to the two parents in June 2003.

The mother and father married each other on December 31, 2005, and lived together for about two years. They separated on January 30, 2008. The court bifurcated the divorce matter into a proceeding on the status of the marriage and a matter on child custody and support. It issued an order of dissolution of the marriage on January 30, 2009, reserving the issues pertaining to the children. The parents shared custody of the two children by agreement since their separation.

The California Department of Child Support Services (DSSC) reportedly told the father that he owed more than $150,000 in child support arrears, an amount covering a period from March 1, 2002 until July 23, 2010. The father challenged the DSSC’s arrearage amount in court, arguing that his marriage to the mother in 2005 terminated the paternity matter’s child support order. The mother claimed that the father owed between $85,000 and $90,000, essentially giving him credit for the two years when they lived together during the marriage, but continuing to compound the arrearages after their separation.

The appeals court said that the paternity and divorce matters were “related for hearing purposes,” so considered issues from both cases. According to the court, no California case had ever considered the question of whether a marriage of two parents to one another nullifies a prior child support order in a paternity decree. The court cited a precedent case involving a couple who divorced, remarried, and divorced again, in which the California Supreme Court held that the child support order from the first divorce decree terminated when the parents remarried each other. The appeals court applied that case and ruled that the father’s child support obligation under the paternity decree terminated when he married the mother, but that he is still liable for arrearages prior to that date. It remanded the case to the trial court to recalculate the arrearage amount.

Thomas Huguenor, a family law specialist certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization, has 35 years of experience guiding the people of San Diego through the family law process, including divorce and child support. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us online or at (858) 458-9500.

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