March 25, 2013 § 3 Comments

I am regularly presented PSA’s and agreed judgments that include a provision that the non-custodial parent will not pay any child support to the custodian. I don’t like it, for reasons that I have expounded on here before.

In my opinion, such agreements are not only undesirable, they are void.

The case of Houck v. Ousterhout, 861 So.2d 1000 (Miss. 2003) may be dispositive. Timothy James Houck and his former wife, Guyolyn Ousterhout, had been involved in various modifications and contempt actions as their children moved in varying numbers from household to household. In 1996, after several inconclusive skirmishes in court, they entered into an agreed judgment that recited that “[m]aterial changes ha[d] occurred in the life of Timothy … which prevent[ed] him from being able to pay his child support as directed. They agreed that Timothy would pay Guyolyn $1,500 in exchange for her waiver of any claim to “past, present and future child support payments,” and further that they agreed “to forever release one another from any obligation, now or in the future, of child support payments by or to either party.”  

Notwithstanding the agreement, the parties found themselves yet again in litigation, in which Guyolyn asked, among other things, for nullification of the agreed order. The chancellor did void the agreed judgment as against public policy, and awarded Guyolyn a judgment against Timothy in the sum of $89,848.65. Timothy appealed.

The MSSC affirmed:

¶ 8. The modification relieving Houck of any obligation to pay child support to a custodial parent is null and void. Child support payments are made to the custodial parent for the benefit of the child. Tanner v. Roland, 598 So.2d 783, 786 (Miss.1992); Lawrence v. Lawrence, 574 So.2d 1376, 1381 (Miss.1991). The child’s right to his parent’s support cannot be bargained or contracted away by his parents. Tanner, 598 So.2d at 786; Calton v. Calton, 485 So.2d 309, 310-11 (Miss.1986).

¶ 9. We have consistently held that child support payments vest in the child as they accrue. Once they have become vested, just as they cannot be contracted away by the parents, they cannot be modified or forgiven by the courts. Tanner, 598 So.2d at 786; Varner v. Varner, 588 So.2d 428, 432-33 (Miss.1991); Premeaux v. Smith, 569 So.2d 681, 685 (Miss.1990); Thurman v. Thurman, 559 So.2d 1014, 1016-17 (Miss.1990); Cumberland v. Cumberland, 564 So.2d 839, 847 (Miss.1990); Brand v. Brand, 482 So.2d 236, 237 (Miss.1986). Each payment that becomes due and remains unpaid “becomes ‘a judgment’ against the supporting parent.” Tanner, 598 So.2d at 786; Brand, 482 So.2d at 237; Cunliffe v. Swartzfager, 437 So.2d 43, 45-46 (Miss.1983); Howard v. Howard, 191 So.2d 528, 531 (Miss.1966). The only defense thereto is payment. Tanner, 598 So.2d at 786; Varner, 588 So.2d at 433. That two of the children are now emancipated does not preclude Ousterhout from seeking recovery of the arrearage from Houck. Tanner, 598 So.2d at 786; Varner, 588 So.2d at 433.

¶ 10. Accrued child support payments cannot be extinguished by a court: “A court cannot relieve the civil liability for support payments that have already accrued.” Hailey v. Holden, 457 So.2d 947, 951 (Miss.1984) (citing Cunliffe, 437 So.2d at 43; Duncan v. Duncan, 417 So.2d 908 (Miss.1982); Howard, 191 So.2d at 528). We have found a chancellor to be in error for suspending execution on a judgment for past due child support. Brand, 482 So.2d at 238-39. We have likewise held that a chancellor erred in finding that payment of only that part of the past due child support which had accrued prior to the warring couple’s protracted child support litigation extinguished his liability. Cumberland, 564 So.2d at 847-48; see also Thurman, 559 So.2d at 1016-17 (Where a supporting parent had paid roughly half the amount owed under a prior decree for two months and none during the third month in question, the chancellor erred in finding that the parent was liable only for the difference between the unpaid amounts and the greatly reduced modified monthly obligation.). [Emphasis added]

To me, the principle is crystal clear: the chancellor can not approve an agreement that relieves a parent of the duty to support his or her child, either prospectively or retroactively.

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  • Scott Clark says:

    I agree that a support obligation, once imposed and approved, cannot later be bargained away, at least as to accrued payments. However, if the custodial parent agrees to provide 100% of the children’s’ support, and the non custodial parent does not work and has no income or any prospect of income, then I do not read these cases to prohibit the custodial parent from agreeing to provide 100% of the support for his/her children. In this scenario, the children are adequately supported, and it would appear unreasonable to impose on the non custodial parent a support obligation which that parent will never be able to satisfy. To do otherwise is to put the non custodial parent in a perpetual state of contempt from which they will never recover. If the circumstances of the NCP were to change, then the parties could seek modification at that time.

  • […] This is a subject about which I have posted here before. You simply can’t contract away an arrearage, and, for that matter, you can’t contract away your minor children’s right to future support. […]

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