Child Support

A case originating in Hamilton County Iowa was recently reviewed and decided by the Iowa Court of Appeals.  In their decision, the court affirmed the decision of the district court to deny the petitioner’s request to modify their dissolution decree.

Case Background

The original divorce decree involved in this case was entered in March of 1999.  The parties, Kevin Arndt and Shanon Green had two children during the course of their marriage, a son and a daughter.  In the decree, the couple agreed to joint legal custody with Shanon retaining physical care of the children.  However, the couple ended up alternating care of the children every two weeks.  Kevin was ordered to pay $300 in support every month in child support.

Modifications of the Dissolution Decree

There were several modifications made to the decree including one increase and one decrease to the amount of support Kevin was ordered to pay.  The modifications were made in 2001 and 2003.  There was also a modification to the custody arrangement of the children.  A second modification in 2003 ordered the couple to alternate care of the children on a weekly basis and neither was required to pay child support.

Shanon petitioned the court again in 2009 to modify the decree so that the physical care of the children be placed with her.  In order to modify the decree, Shanon was required to show a “substantial and material change in circumstances” had occurred.  She alleged that her ex-husband  was not exercising his weeks of childcare, that he had stopped communicating with her, and that he was failing to “properly guide” their son who was involved in delinquency proceedings at the time.

District Court’s Decision Regarding the Modification Petition

By the time the case actually came to trial, the parties had come to the agreement that their son should be placed in the physical care of Kevin, however, could not stipulate to the placement of their 15 year old daughter.  Because of the daughter’s age, her opinion was taken into consideration.  She liked being with her mother during the week because it accommodated her scheduled activities, however, was clear that she preferred being with her father when it did not interfere with her activities.

The District Court ruled that Shanon had not met her burden to establish material and substantial change in circumstances.  Shanon appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals.

Iowa Child Custody Modification Law

 

“Once a physical care arrangement is established, the party seeking to modify it bears a heightened burden, and we will modify the arrangement only for most cogent reasons.”  Dale v. Pearson, 555 N.W.2d 243, 245 (Iowa Ct. App. 1996).

There is a high burden to meet if a party wants to modify a decree of the court.  The petitioner must establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the circumstances since the decree was entered have changed to substantially and materially that the children’s best interests necessitate a change to the decree.  The circumstances necessitating the change to the decree must not have already been considered by the court when the decree was entered and must not be temporary.

If the court decides that this first burden has been met, they will then decide if the petitioning party is able to care more effectively for the child.

Factors to be considered in modifying custody include:

  1. Best interests of the children
  2. Child’s preference (but less weight in modification than in initial custody proceedings)
  3. Siblings should not be separated
  4. Conduct of the custodial parent (including whether the parent encourages and facilitates the child’s relationship with the other parent),including denial of visitation or contact.
  5. Stability for the Child

 

IA Court of Appeals Decision

The court did not find the evidence supported a change in the share care arrangement of the parties.  Shanon failed to show a substantial and material change in circumstances to necessitate a modification to the dissolution decree.  The court did find evidence to support a modification to Kevin’s ordered amount of child support.  Kevin is now ordered to pay $173.13 in support of the two children.

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The Iowa Court of Appeals recently affirmed  the decision of a Hamilton County Court to dismiss the child support modification application of Amy Eger.  Ms. Eger and her former husband Michael married in 1997 and had 2 sons.  Their stipulated divorce decree included shared legal custody and joint physical care of their children.  Because the couple earned similar incomes and was sharing the responsibility of their sons’ care, neither party was required to pay child support.

Application to Modify Child Support

Two years after the divorce decree was entered, Amy filed an application seeking to increase Michael’s child support amount from $0 to $240.78.  Amy claimed that the original arrangement differs more than 10% form the Iowa child support guidelines.  Alternatively, Michael testified that he does indeed already pay to support his son’s sports activities and contributes financially when he has physical care of the boys every other week.  He also argues that their individual incomes have not changed since their divorce.  (He earned approximately $40,000 and she earned approximately $33,000).

Analysis of the Court in Affirming Decision to Dismiss Child Support Modification Application

The Iowa Court of Appeals reviews child support modification proceedings de novo.  The “de novo” standard of review means that the court will consider all legal and factual issues anew, giving weight to the trial court’s findings of fact, especially the credibility of witnesses, but are not bound by the court’s findings.

Modifying Child Support Orders

“Substantial Change in Circumstances”

To successfully modify child support in Iowa, Amy must establish there has been a “substantial change in the circumstances of the parties” since the time of the decree.  The decree that was originally entered was final as to the circumstances existing at the time.  Therefore, if there is a substantial change in those circumstances, the court will be allowed to modify the amount of support originally set.

“Injustice” or “Failure to do Equity”

In addition to the substantial change in circumstances, Amy must also establish that continued enforcement of the original child support order would result in a wrong or injustice.

In denying Amy’s application for support modification, the District Court found that there was a 10% difference between what Michael should be paying and what he was required to pay.  However, unfortunately for Amy, this difference existed at the time the decree was stipulated to.  Therefore, the court decided that to apply the child support guidelines at this point, and not earlier when the decree was agreed upon would be inequitable.

Regretting the Original Decree

The Appeals Court concludes that Amy, “now regretting at the time of divorce, seeks to use a “mechanical” application of the Iowa Code to get out of her commitment.”  The court explains that all of the circumstances that are now true, were also true or could have been reasonably anticipated when the original divorce decree was agreed to.  Ultimately, they find that Amy has not established a substantial change in circumstances to justify a modification to the child support agreement.

The court also finds that the continued enforcement of the decree requiring neither party to pay support does not result in any wrong or injustice.

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The decrease in the amount of marriages and the change in what a family unit looks like in the United States has prompted lawmakers in CA to propose a bill that would allow a child to have more than two parents.  The New York Times reported last week on a bill that has passed the California Senate with Democrats voting for and Republicans against.

Increasing Number of States Recognizing Third Parents

This may seem like a revolutionary idea – for a child to have more than two parents, however, there are several states that have recognized similar situations in recent years.  As the NY Times reports, Delaware and the District of Columbia have passed laws that allow for third “de facto” parents.  Other states such as Oregon

“Non-Traditional” families may gain increased legal recognition if recently introduced California legislation becomes law.

and Massachusetts have had their courts recognize third parents throughout the last decade.

The CA bill would allow judges to acknowledge that a child has more than two legal parents.  This recognition would allow families that include same-sex couples to have legal relationships where they may not have been able to previously.  There are many possibilities for today’s varied family structures to have more security – insurance, schools, hospitals, etc. would all be more accessible to people acting as parents because they would now be able to be legally recognized as parents.

The bill would not only benefit families that include a same-sex couple.  For example, if a husband and wife divorce, this bill would allow the new spouse of either biological parent to be able to adopt any children from the previous marriage without having to terminate the parental rights of the biological parent.

Opponents of Recognizing Third Parents

Opponents of the law have concerns however.  They believe that this bill would “open the door” to same sex marriage, which they believe is wrong.  Critics also point out the confusion this could cause when it comes to child support payments.  It isn’t clear at this point what the effects would be on child support, however, it seems that it could only be beneficial to the child to have more sources of child support available.  The recognition of additional parents may also reduce the incredible stress on many state foster care systems because there would be more relatives available for placement when children are removed from their homes.

Opponents are also wary of slippery slope situations where a child could have a dozen parents, or more.  However, the bill does not seem to allow a free for all – it allows a judge to recognize an additional legal parental relationship between an adult and a child in addition to the child’s biological mother and father.  The judge would have to find that the recognition of this additional parent is in the child’s best interest.

Recognizing a Third Parent in Iowa

Currently, Iowa is not one of the states that recognizes a third parent relationship.  When child custody is an issue in Iowa,

Iowa law requires that the court, “insofar as is reasonable and in the best interests of the child,” shall order the custody award, including liberal visitation rights where appropriate, which will assure the child the opportunity for maximum continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents after the parents have separated and dissolved the marriage, and which will encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of raising the child unless physical harm or significant emotional harm to the child, other children, or a parent is likely to result from such contact with one parent.

As in other states, it is unclear how the recognition of a third parent would change child custody practices in Iowa.  A bill similar to the CA bill has not yet been introduced in Iowa, however, if the CA bill is successful, it may open the door for such legislation in other states, including Iowa.

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The Iowa Court of Appeals recently decided a case that involves several points including child custody, visitation and support.  The case is brought on appeal by Daniel Moyer from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County.  Daniel and his ex-wife Ashley Moyer were married in March of 2008 and had previously had a son, Gabriel, born in July 2006.   They divorced in June of 2010.  All of the issues were decided and included in the couple’s dissolution of marriage decree.

 In Re the Marriage of Ashley Moyer and Daniel Moyer

The couple lived with Dan’s parents rent and expense free while Ashley was pregnant with their child and after the birth when married.  The court finds that although living with Dan’s parents, both Dan and Ashley were ambitious and industrious.  Dan went to school for an associate’s degree in math while Ashley took care of their child and eventually attended culinary school and worked in food service.

When Dan and Ashley separated, Ashley moved out of her in-law’s home with Gabriel, however, Dan continued to care for Gabriel at night while Ashley worked.  Approximately a year later, Dan moved to Laramie, Wyoming to pursue a degree in petroleum engineering at the University of Wyoming.  He lived with his girlfriend and her child.  Ashley continued to live and work in Council Bluffs.

The divorce decree, entered August 23, 2011, granted physical care to Ashley with Dan receiving visitation when he is in Iowa, along with 6 weeks of visitation in the summer and over the Christmas holidays.  Dan was ordered to pay $195.13 per month in child support.  Soon after the decree was entered, Dan filed a combined motion for new trial, expanded findings, and interpretation.

 Court of Appeals Reviews District Court’s Child Custody, Visitation and Support Decision

 Child Custody

The Court reviews child custody decisions de novo, meaning they examine the entire record and make new judgments on each issue presented.  They will give strong consideration to the district court’s findings of fact.

In favor of his being granted child custody, Dan argues that he is the more stable parent, he had been the primary caregiver, the proximity of Gabriel to his grandparents was relied too heavily upon by the district court, and that Ashley disregards his role as a parent.  The court views all of these arguments in the light of what is in the best interest of the child.  The factors set forth in Iowa Code section 598.41(3) (2009) guide the court:

 

3.  In considering what custody arrangement under subsection 2 is in the best interest of the minor child, the court shall consider the following factors:

 

a.  Whether each parent would be a suitable custodian for the child.

b.  Whether the psychological and emotional needs and development of the child will suffer due to lack of active contact with and attention from both parents.

c.  Whether the parents can communicate with each other regarding the child’s needs.

d.  Whether both parents have actively cared for the child before and since the separation.

e.  Whether each parent can support the other parent’s relationship with the child.

f.  Whether the custody arrangement is in accord with the child’s wishes or whether the child has strong opposition, taking into consideration the child’s age and maturity.

g.  Whether one or both the parents agree or are opposed to joint custody.

h.  The geographic proximity of the parents.

i.  Whether the safety of the child, other children, or the other parent will be jeopardized by the awarding of joint custody or by unsupervised or unrestricted visitation.

j.  Whether a history of domestic abuse, as defined in section 236.2, exists.  In determining whether a history of domestic abuse exists, the court’s consideration shall include, but is not limited to, commencement of an action pursuant to section 236.3, the issuance of a protective order against the parent or the issuance of a court order or consent agreement pursuant to section 236.5, the issuance of an emergency order pursuant to section 236.6, the holding of a parent in contempt pursuant to section 664A.7, the response of a peace officer to the scene of alleged domestic abuse or the arrest of a parent following response to a report of alleged domestic abuse, or a conviction for domestic abuse assault pursuant to section 708.2A.

In regards to being the more stable parent, the court finds nothing with regard to Ashley’s employment or living situation that would hamper her ability to care for Gabriel.  In fact, they agree with the district court’s determination that Ashley actually provides the more stable environment that includes Gabriel’s grandparents.

The court also rules in Ashley’s favor in regards to the question of who was Gabriel’s primary caregiver.  The court finds that both parties are capable of caring for the child.  At trial, Ashley testified that she was in fact the primary caregiver and Dan agreed.

Dan’s argument that the district court relied too heavily upon the proximity of Gabriel to his grandparents also did not survive.  The court discusses the fact that Dan could have chosen to attend school at a University only 3 hours away that offers the same program that he is enrolled in at the University of Wyoming.  They find that although Ashley’s plans may change, at the present time, she is planning to remain in Council Bluffs near Gabriel’s extended family.  The court does not believe that the district court placed too much importance on this factor.

Finally, the court finds that although Ashley could have made better efforts at communication on certain issues with Dan, Ashley and Dan have actually been able to work together in the past.  The minor communication glitches do not warrant a finding that Ashley disregards Dan’s role as parent.

Overall, the court of appeals agrees with the district court that it is in the child’s best interest to place physical care of Gabriel with Ashley.  They mention that Dan’s decision to attend school 8 hours away from his extended family tipped the balance in favor of Ashley.

Child Visitation

Just as with child custody, the child’s best interest is the main consideration of the court when ruling on visitation.  Iowa Code section 598.41(1) guides their decision:

598.41  CUSTODY OF CHILDREN.

1. a.  The court may provide for joint custody of the child by the parties.  The court, insofar as is reasonable and in the best interest of the child, shall order the custody award, including liberal visitation rights where appropriate, which will assure the child the opportunity for the maximum continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved the marriage, and which will encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of raising the child unless direct physical harm or significant emotional harm to the child, other children, or a parent is likely to result from such contact with one parent.

Dan argues that the visitation schedule in the decree fails to maximize contact with both parents.  He requests additional visitation in his appeal.  He also asks for improved telephonic and electronic communication with Gabriel.  Dan also complains that the burdens of travel are placed on him.

In order to provide maximum contact with both parents, the court modifies the decree so Dan receives additional visitation during Thanksgiving and Spring Breaks.  The court also agrees that it would be fair for Ashley to have to share in the expense of Dan traveling to see Gabriel in limited circumstances.

 Child Support

The final issue the court considers is the amount of child support Dan is required to pay.  In Iowa, child support is determined by guidelines set forward by the Iowa Supreme Court.  The court determines both parent’s monthly income to arrive at the amount of child support owed.  The court decides that Dan is capable of working part time despite his demanding school schedule and that the student loans he voluntarily took out may be applied to his monthly income.  The court requires Dan to pay $195.13 in child support.

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The New York Times recently reported that new developments in blood tests will allow the paternity of a child to be determined long before the child’s birth.  New blood tests could possibly determine the identity of the child’s father during the 8th or 9th week of pregnancy without the invasive procedure and risk of an amniocentesis.  Amniocentesis is a procedure in which amniotic fluid is removed from the uterus, carrying a risk of miscarriage or other complications.

Implications of Early Paternity Testing

Knowing who the father is sooner will certainly have implications.  It will allow a woman to terminate a pregnancy with an undesired man sooner than ever before, or continue the pregnancy if the father is someone she prefers.  Also, the early knowledge of paternity may cause the father to be more willing to provide emotional and financial support to the mother during pregnancy.  This increased financial and emotional support could lead to healthier mothers and babies.

One legal implication, The Times reports, is that if the tests gain legal acceptance it will allow women and states to pursue child support payments much earlier than they do presently.  This may also allow the couple to come to an agreed settlement on child support before the child is born, reducing stress on the mother and court proceedings after the child is born.

Accuracy, Methodology, and Cost of Early Paternity Test

The test could be difficult to administer, however, because the putative father needs to provide a blood sample in addition to the mother.  The tests determine the paternity of the child by analyzing fragments of DNA from the fetus that are present in the mother’s blood in tiny amounts.  None of these early tests that are being offered have received a certification for accuracy that would make them acceptable to a court.  The tests are being offered by a few companies and range in price from approximately $1,000 to $1,800.  A typical post-birth paternity test usually costs around $500.

Social Controversy Involved with Using Early Paternity Tests

If courts and other entities begin to use these paternity tests, they could cause quite a controversy.  Because the tests could lead to more abortions, there may be many religious and anti-abortion groups that will surely have concerns.  However, the tests could lead to more continued pregnancies if women find out the father is who they hoped.  For example, if a woman had been raped and she found out the rapist was not the father, she may very well decide against abortion.

Surely, blood test technology will progress so that these tests are a viable option for women who need them.  It remains to be seen, however, whether society will accept their use in official capacities.

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Actress Katie Holmes filed for divorce from her husband of 5 years, Tom Cruise, last Thursday.   The pair met and married quickly and have been the subject of Hollywood speculation for the duration of their relationship.  Holmes, 33, has one 6 year old daughter, Suri, with Cruise.  Cruise has two adopted children from a previous marriage with actress Nicole Kidman.  It has been reported that Cruise was surprised to learn of Holmes’ filing.  This is the end of Cruise’s 3rd marriage, while Holmes’ first.

Fault vs. No Fault Divorce

Holmes filed for divorce in the state of New York.  There has been much speculation as to her motivation for filing in a “fault” divorce state.  In New York and other states that allow a petitioner to file for divorce on fault-based grounds.  In New York, you may file for a fault-based divorce based on several  grounds:

  • Cruel and Inhuman Treatment
    • Physical, verbal or emotional abuse that endangers your physical or mental well being.
    • The judge will look for occurrences in the last 5 years.
  • Abandonment
    • Your spouse must have abandoned you for a period of one or more years.
    • “Constructive Abandonment” is applicable if your spouse has refused to engage in sexual relations with you for a period of at least one year.
  • Three Consecutive Year Imprisonment
    • The imprisonment must begin after the marriage and last for a period of 3 consecutive years.
  • Adultery
    • Must be able to show that your spouse committed adultery during the marriage, which can prove to be difficult.

In Holmes’ and Cruise’s case, there is, of course, much speculation as to why Holmes would have filed in New York.  Many believe that Cruise’s intense commitment to Scientology may have played a role in their split.  In the petition, Holmes has claimed that the couple is unable to continue the marriage because of irreconcilable differences.  Cruise is expected to file a response in New York requesting the proceedings be moved to California.

Cruise and Holmes have a pre-nuptial agreement, so financial considerations will most likely not be a major issue in their divorce.  Holmes could challenge the agreement, however, the main issue will almost certainly be custody of their daughter.  Holmes has filed for sole custody of Suri along with an “appropriate” child support amount.

Iowa:  a No Fault Divorce State

Iowa is considered a no-fault divorce state.  The Iowa Code addresses dissolution of marriage in Chapter 598.

Officially called “dissolution of marriage” in Iowa, a divorce will be granted when there is evidence of a breakdown of the relationship with no likelihood it can be preserved.  There is no requirement for a spouse to place blame on the other spouse.  After filing for dissolution, a judge may require the couple to participate in conciliation efforts for a period of up to 60 days.  For example, Polk county requires the couple to participate in mediation.  Iowa Code section 598.7 addresses this requirement.  Also, there is a 90 day waiting period in Iowa from the time of filing until a judge can issue a final decree, although this requirement may be waived under certain circumstances.

It remains to be seen just how nasty Tom Cruise and Katie Holme’s divorce will be, however, we can be assured that whatever happens, there will be intense media coverage of every detail!

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Iowa Supreme Court Issues Opinion Regarding a Paternity Fraud Cause of Action

The Iowa Supreme Court issued an opinion on Friday, June 1, 2012 regarding a case appealed from the Iowa district court in Grundy County.  The case, Dier v. Peters  focuses on the question of whether there should be a separate cause of action, separate from common law fraud, for Paternity Fraud.

Dier v. Peters

Cassandra Jo Peters allegedly informed Joseph O. Dier that he was the father of her child, O.D., born February 10, 2009.  Dier claims that as a result of this information he made voluntary financial contributions to Peters intended to be used for the care of Peters and the child.  According to Dier, Peters knew that O.D. was not Dier’s child, but still accepted the financial contributions.

At some point after the child was born, Dier filed an application in district court to obtain custody of O.D.  As a part of that case, there was a child custody evaluation completed.  Peters became afraid that she may lose custody of O.D. and requested that a paternity test be performed.  Two paternity tests later, and Dier was excluded from being O.D.’s biological father.  As a result, on August 2, 2011, Dier filed a petition seeking reimbursement of the financial contributions he had made to Peters throughout O.D.’s life.

Peters moved to dismiss the action for failure to state a cause of action because Iowa does not recognize a cause of action for Paternity Fraud.  Of course Dier resisted this motion claiming that Peters’ actions were tantamount to fraud at common law.

The Court reviewed the appeal for errors at law, meaning they accepted the facts as found by the district court.

In her motion to dismiss, Peters is correct that Iowa, along with many other states, does not recognize a specific Paternity Fraud claim for relief.  In this case, the Iowa Supreme Court rules on whether a putative father can bring a claim for damages as a result of fraud by a biological mother either by a claim of Paternity Fraud or common law fraud.

Can a Putative Father Recoup Past Paid Support?

This case is different from the majority of paternity fraud type cases where a father tries to reclaim court-ordered support.  Here, the financial support provided by Dier was completely voluntary and not ordered by the court.  The Iowa Supreme Court has held on numerous occasions that a father may not recover support that was paid as a result of a court order.  Iowa Code 600B.41A(4) states:

 4. If the court finds that the establishment of paternity is overcome, in accordance with all of the conditions prescribed, the court shall enter an order which provides all of the following:

a. That the established father is relieved of any and all future support obligations owed on behalf of the child from the date that the order determining that the established father is not the biological father is filed.

b. That any unpaid support due prior to the date the order determining that the established father is not the biological father is filed, is satisfied.

So, if the court should find that paternity has been overcome, the putative father cannot be reimbursed for previous payments made by court order, however, any previous unpaid support and any future support obligations are seen as satisfied.

 Common Law Fraud

The present case is not controlled by this statute however, so the Court bases its decision on whether Dier’s claim should be dismissed on whether it fits into the traditional elements of common law fraud.  The Court finds that Dier’s claim does in fact fit into the framework of common law fraud.  The elements as well as the Court’s analysis are as follows:

  •  1 and 2:  False Representation – The Court finds that Dier does in fact allege that Peters represented to him that he was the father and that the two subsequent paternity tests show that representation to be false.
  • 3:  Materiality – the misrepresentation is material if it substantially affects the interests of the party alleged to be defrauded; if it induces a reasonable person to react.  The Court states that Dier reacted as a reasonable person would if they were informed they were the father of a child.  The misrepresentation caused him to contribute financially to O.D. and Peter’s lives.
  • 4:  Knowledge of falsity – Dier would need to show that Peters had actual knowledge that the representation she made to Dier was false.  Dier alleges this to be the case in his pleadings.
  • 5:  Intent to deceive – The Court finds that Dier’s allegations would survive a motion to dismiss because he indicates that not only did Peters know he was not the biological father of O.D., but that she used that misrepresentation to secure money from him.
  • 6:  Justifiable Reliance – A plaintiff is not allowed to blindly rely on any representation made to him or her.  The Court acknowledges that a paternity test could have shown from the beginning that Dier was not the father, however, is not willing to hold that a putative father is never allowed to rely on the biological mother’s word that they are indeed the father.  Therefore, Dier’s assertions are enough to survive the pleading stage.
  • 7:  Proximate Cause – the allegations that Dier has made that he spent the money based on the misrepresentation are enough to survive a motion to dismiss.
  • 8:  Damages – Dier needs to make an ascertainable showing of damages or injury to satisfy the elements of a common law fraud claim.  He does show out of pocket expenses made as a result of the misrepresentation.  The Court does rule however that he may not recover the attorney fees incurred during the custody case litigation.

The Court states that Dier does not attempt to create a new cause of action in his claim for relief, but in fact, does make an allowable claim for relief under common law fraud.

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U.S. Census Bureau Studies Economic Well-Being of Children and Their Absent Fathers

Divorce and Its’ Effect on Children

Divorce, separation, and other family law problems can wreak havoc on the family unit. Just by virtue of the event taking place – the separation of a set of parents, the children of the relationship can be expected to go through moderate changes at the very least. Unfortunately, in many cases, children endure much worse than moderate changes. They not only experience emotional upheaval but more tangible changes in their lives such as a different living arrangement and different, usually less, parental interaction than when their parents were together. The result of these changes often means that there is a lower income to support the children, thus lowering the standard of living for children whose parents are divorced or living apart.

U.S. Census Bureau Study Focusing on Economic Well-Being of Children and Their Absent Fathers

Difficulty in Studying Absent Fathers

                In the early 1990’s, the U.S. Census Bureau released a study , that has since become widely-read, on the economic well-being of children who have experienced a divorce or separation of their parents.  As the paper describes, there are not many studies on this topic available because of the difficulty in acquiring data on absent fathers. One explanation for this difficulty is that many men, after they divorce or separate, if they are the non-custodial parent, change residences – much more often than women, or the custodial parent in the relationship, do.

Studying the Post-Separation Income of Fathers

This U.S. Census Bureau Study examined the post-separation income of fathers and the relative well-being of absent fathers and their children. The researchers interviewed the children and parents selected for a period of 32 months in four month intervals. Families from across the United States were studied, with children being restricted to those under the age of 15 and present in the household of one of their parents.

Changes in the Economic Well-Being of the Household after the Departure of the Father

The study found very troubling changes in the economic well-being of the children’s household after the departure of the father.  Directly after the disruption in the family, .statistics show that the income level drops by 37% and the percentage of households living in poverty doubles.

The study also shows differences between the families where they were able to track and follow up with fathers after they left the family versus families where they were unable to follow up with the father.  Children with fathers who were able to be tracked and re-interviewed lived at income levels that are 20 to 40% higher than those of children whose fathers are unable to be tracked.  Also, the percentage of children living in poverty is more than twice as high for fathers who can’t be tracked after the family disruption than fathers who can be.  This suggests that families with lower incomes before a divorce or separation are more likely to have an absent father after.

Also, as expected, fathers who are unable to be tracked are less likely to pay child support after they leave the family household. Even for fathers who do pay child support, the study shows that they are living farther above the poverty line and enjoying a more comfortable economic well-being than their children.

Would this Study Look the Same Today?

Of course, since this study has not been recreated, there is no way to know what the economic well-being of children of divorced or separated homes and their absent fathers look like.  Unfortunately, the percentage of children experiencing a family disruption such as a divorce or separation of their parents is higher now than in the early 1990s and is rising.  In 1990, 24% of all households with children were single parent households.  In 2008, the percentage increased to 29.5%.

With this many relationships ending in divorce or separation, it is of the utmost importance to consider the children of the relationship first when the family disruption occurs.

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Iowa Supreme Court Rules on Post-Secondary Education Subsidy

When a Parent will be Required to Pay for a Portion of their Child’s College Education

On April 27, 2012 the Iowa Supreme Court entered a ruling regarding the parental requirement to pay a portion of children’s post-secondary education as outlined in Iowa Code Section 598.21F(2011). The statute provides that a court may order a “post-secondary education subsidy” if good cause is shown. The court will consider the age of the child, the child’s financial resources, whether the child is self-sustaining, and the financial condition of each parent in determining whether there is good cause to require the parents to pay for any of the child’s college education.

How Much will a Parent be Required to Pay?

If good cause is found to exist, the court will base the cost of the child’s college education on the cost for an in-state university where the child would receive a four year undergraduate degree. The court will then consider how much the child should reasonably be expected to contribute taking scholarships, financial aid, loans, and the child’s ability to work into consideration. After all of these considerations, the statute provides that neither parent should be required to pay more than one third of the entire cost of the child’s college education.

When Doesn’t a Parent have to Pay?

The post-secondary education subsidy will NOT be required of a parent that has been repudiated by the child. This means that if the child has publicly disowned the parent or refused to acknowledge the parent, there will be no requirement for that parent to pay for any of the child’s college costs. Also, if the child receives the post-secondary education subsidy, they will be required to report their grades to their parents ten days within receiving them and to maintain a grade point average above the median range.

Recent Iowa Supreme Court Decision

In the case recently ruled upon by the Iowa Supreme Court, the mother and father separated when their only daughter was an infant. The mother remarried a man who had a high income and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. The father remarried as well, had three additional children and then divorced for a second time. He earned a fairly good income, however unlike the mother, he had a high amount of debt and a very small net worth.
In its decision, the Court found there was good cause for the post-secondary education requirement because the daughter was 19 years old, doing well in college, and she was working part-time and contributing financially to her own college education, but not able to support herself entirely on her own. The Court considered the financial outlook of the father and noted that the same amount of sacrifice required of a parent in the support of a minor child is NOT required in the payment of a post-secondary education subsidy. They find that the father does not lead an extravagant lifestyle, and while he does make a good income, he should not be required to pay as high of a subsidy as determined by the Court of Appeals.
The Court affirmed the finding of good cause in requiring the post-secondary education subsidy, however reduced the amount the father was required to pay significantly.

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