Mom is going to Have to Pay Child Support to Grandma!
Is there anything stranger than someone being ordered to pay child support to her mother-in-law? That’s what happened today when the California Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s decision to deny child support to an ex-husband’s mother by his ex-wife, even though the mother-in-law/mother/ex-wife had court ordered physical custody of the former couple’s two-and-a-half-year old daughter.
Let’s start at the beginning. The little girl and her mother and father were living in Hawaii when the parents got divorced. The father got custody and the mother was ordered to pay $70.00 per month in child support.
Father and the daughter then moved to Maryland, where Father’s mother lived. The grandmother started becoming the caregiver for the child and then filed a court case in Maryland requesting custody. The grandmother also requested child support from both parents.
The father did not oppose his own mother’s request and his ex-wife did not timely oppose the request. Thus, the Maryland court entered a consent child support order requiring Father to pay his mother $310 per month in child support.
The State of Maryland then contacted California authorities asking them to pursue a child support order against Mother, who lived here. But the trial court in San Diego denied the request, brought by the San Diego Department of Child Support. The trial court based its decision on Family Code section 3951, subd. (a), which says that a parent does not have to compensate a relative for “the voluntary support of the parent’s child”.
But in a 3-0 decision, the Court of Appeal in San Diego held that the grandmother’s support of the child was not “voluntary” because she was the court-ordered custodian of the child and therefore was mandated to support her. Since her support was mandatory and not voluntary, section 3951 did not apply.
“[W]hen Grandmother assumed the care of (the child) after Father moved to Maryland, she did so of her own accord”, the appeals panel explained. “However, once the court issued its order awarding Grandmother sole legal and physical custody of (the child), she was no longer free to discontinue caring” for the little girl.
In the end, public policy concerns might have played a role. Specifically, the Court stated ” ” ‘California has a strong public policy in favor of adequate child support,’ ” as expressed in the statutes that embody the statewide uniform child support guideline and place the interests of children as the state’s top priority”.
So what happens next? The case, entitled County of San Diego v. C.A. has been sent back to the trial court for a new hearing that takes into account the Court of Appeal’s ruling.