The Duty of Child Support or Not

October 8, 2018 § 3 Comments

Lawyers try to get me to approve agreements for no child support, and usually exhaust themselves unsuccessfully in the effort. Here is the basis for my resistance:

Chroniger v. Chroniger, 914 So.2d 311, 316 (Miss. App. 2005):

¶ 17. Generally, the chancellor has wide discretion regarding modification of child support. Brawdy, 841 So.2d at 1178 (¶ 9). However, “[t]he welfare of children and their best interest is the primary objective of the law, and the courts must not accord to contractual arrangements such importance as to turn the inquiry away from that goal.” McManus v. Howard, 569 So.2d 1213, 1215–16 (Miss.1990). Further, “[c]hancellors should be reluctant to enter orders that do not require a non-custodial parent to pay an appropriate amount of child support,” and such orders “should be entered only in rare circumstances.” Brawdy, 841 So.2d at 1179 (¶ 16). The chancellor must additionally include detailed findings when entering an order denying child support from a noncustodial parent. See id.; cf. White v. White, 722 So.2d 731, 737 (¶ 41) (Miss.1997) (“This Court has consistently required chancellors to justify any departure from the statutory guidelines when setting child support awards in a detailed, written findings of fact and conclusions of law”). A substantial or material change in circumstances “not reasonably anticipated at the time of the previous agreement” may warrant modification of a child support award. Id. at 1178–79 (¶ 11).

Lawrence v. Lawrence, 574 So.2d 1376, 1381 (Miss. 1991):

“There is another question here, apparently of first impression, as to whether the noncustodial parent can contract, under § 93–5–2, to end child support before his or her child reaches majority. Both parties cite Nichols v. Tedder, 547 So.2d 766, 770 (Miss.1989), which stated that “it is well recognized that a parent is relieved of the legal duty to support their child once the child is emancipated, by attaining the age of majority or otherwise.” Nichols found that this age of majority, for purposes of child care and maintenance orders issued pursuant to §§ 93–5–23 and 93–11–65, was twenty-one (21). Nichols did not mention § 93–5–2, though it did recognize the ability of parents to contract to provide support beyond the age of 21. Nichols, 547 So.2d at 770. This Court did state, in Calton v. Calton, 485 So.2d 309, 310 (Miss.1986), that “[t]he duty to support children is a continuing duty on both parents and is a vested right of the child. Applying [this principle], it follows that parents cannot contract away rights vested in minor children. Such a contract would be against public policy.” A limited exception is a paternity action such as found in Atwood v. Hicks by Hicks, 538 So.2d 404 (Miss.1989).

“To hold that a parent may contract to cut off child support at age 18 would conflict with the language of § 93–5–2 and the public policy supporting it. See Bell v. Bell, 572 So.2d 841 (Miss.1990) (provision of divorce decree mandating children’s residence in certain town until children reach majority is unenforceable). We do acknowledge that a child may not have a right to support to age 21, depending on the acts or activity of the child, but certainly parents cannot by contract terminate any of the rights of the child. It is accepted that an agreed final decree may be modified. Further, while a property settlement, judicially approved, is always given great weight by this Court, the agreement and weight given may not extinguish the rights of a minor child and cut off child support prior to emancipation, all to the detriment and interest of the child. As the Court stated in Cumberland v. Cumberland, 564 So.2d 839, 847 (Miss.1990), “[c]hild support is awarded to the custodial parent for the benefit and protection of the child. Child support benefits belong to the child, and not the parent who, having custody, receives such benefits under a fiduciary duty to hold and use them for the benefit of the child.” We hold that a child support agreement, submitted to the court pursuant to § 93–5–2, which ends support for a child before that child reaches the age of twenty-one or is otherwise emancipated, is unenforceable as to the rights of the child.”

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