Can Alienated Dad Stop Paying Support for 29-Year-Old Daughter?
The father applied to the court to eliminate his monthly $583 child support obligation for his now 29-year-old daughter. He also asked the court to find he had been overpaying support for the past decade, since she graduated high-school, and that he should be reimbursed for those overpayments.
The daughter lived with her mother, and essentially had no relationship with her father. He had been making support payments since 2006, and continued to do so until 2017. At that point, after receiving long-requested information from the mother about their daughter’s activities as they pertained to her support entitlement, he brought a motion to change the 2006 eliminating his support duty.
As the court explains:
As a result of obtaining disclosure, the father amended his position for trial and asks the Court to terminate child support retroactively as of June 26, 2008, the date that [the daughter] J.K.N. graduated high school. The disclosure the father obtained reveals that J.K.N. enrolled in 6 different college programs in 3 different schools over the years since high school. In fact, in the year that the father launched this proceeding to terminate support, J.K.N., at age 28, enrolled in her 6th college program, after having been out of school for at least 4 years. Her transcripts reveal that she has earned only 1 credit, ever, in these various programs.
Even though the daughter was technically enrolled in various college programs, the father argued that her support entitlement should have ended after high school, and that the mother should now owe him for the overpayment. The court described his position:
He argues that J.K.N. did not apply herself at college when she was enrolled, and at times, she was enrolled part-time or not at all. He argues that she switched programs multiple times, she earned very low grades or no grades at all, she failed to attend classes, she withdrew from courses, and she never obtained a degree or diploma.
The father says that his proposed termination date results in the mother owing him $66,233.66.
Eventually, the mother agreed that child support should end, but disagreed with the father on the end-date, and whether she owed him for any overpayment. Thus the dispute as it was presented to the court was pared down to that narrow issue.
The court started by observing that the mother bore the burden of establishing that the daughter was still entitled to support. Under the Child Support Guidelines, a child support order can be terminated if there a “change in circumstances”, which threshold was met when the daughter became an adult. However, that was not the sole criterion: The court had to look at other factors as well.
The court heard evidence that the daughter was both financially and emotionally reliant on the mother, who also paid for any needed food, clothing, and bus tickets and also provided gas money. The daughter was not currently working and indeed had never worked full-time in the 10 years since graduating high school, although she periodically held various part-time jobs.
Under the law, even if the court found it arguable that the adult daughter was engaged in a full-time program of education, this did not automatically mean she was still entitled to support. Rather, the court also had to find that she was unable to withdraw from parental control. This will occur if in her overall circumstances, she remained both financially and emotionally dependent on one or both parents. The court said,
The analysis of this issue must be undertaken from a broad and objective standpoint. The judge must scratch beneath the surface of outward appearances to determine whether the child is truly dependent on a parent, or whether their overall circumstances are such that they are independent or reasonably capable of being so.
After considering a number of specific factors, including the reasonableness of the daughter’s education plan and her level of success in it, the court ruled that the father’s obligation to pay support ended retroactively as of April 2010. At that date, the court reasoned, the evidence (in the form of school transcripts) showed that the daughter had passed only one of her courses, and “just barely”.
With that date in mind, the court calculated the father’s overpayment at almost $41,000, and ordered the mother to repay that amount. Although the mother’s financial ability to do so was a relevant factor to consider, the court had only an incomplete picture of her finances, or how she was supporting herself. It concluded that she was evasive when testifying about her income and financial circumstances. With that said, the $41,000 was to be reduced by certain amounts that the father had not paid under two costs orders made in 2004 and 2006 respectively.
For the full text of the decision, see:
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