Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Court: Obligation to Pay Child Support to Stepfather Not ‘Voluntary’
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
A man whose 18-year-old daughter was four months short of graduating from boarding school had to still pay child support to her stepfather, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday, despite a state law requiring an agreement in order to uphold “voluntary” support obligations.
The panel said that Family Code Sec. 3951 did not apply where the girl’s stepfather shared legal and physical custody with the father under a court order after the girl’s mother’s death.
Writing for the court, Justice Ronald B. Robie also rejected the father’s argument that the girl’s age cut off the father’s support obligation.
William Schopfer was awarded shared custody with his daughter’s stepfather, Daniel Bonebrake, by the Sacramento Superior Court in 2006 after the girl’s mother died. Schopfer was also ordered the following year to pay Bonebrake $900 each month for child support.
Months Before Graduation
In July 2008, four months before the daughter graduated from high school at an Oregon boarding school she had attended for the last 10 months at the recommendation of a therapist and counselor, Schopfer moved to reduce his support obligations to zero.
He contended that he could not be compelled to pay child support to a third party, absent an agreement under Sec. 3951, and that he could no longer be required to pay support because his daughter was already 18 years old.
Schopfer also argued that an order requiring him to pay support was inequitable because Bonebrake no longer paid for the girl’s expenses while she was at boarding school.
Superior Court Judge Jerilyn L. Borack, however, rejected Schopfer’s contentions, and the Court of Appeal affirmed in an opinion by Justice Ronald B. Robie.
Robie said that Sec. 3951—which provides that “A parent is not bound to compensate the other parent, or a relative, for the voluntary support of the parent’s child, without an agreement for compensation”—did not apply to someone made a custodial parent by a court order.
The justice further concluded that Borack did not err in requiring Schopfer to pay support past his daughter’s 18th birthday, and rejected Schopfer’s assertion that his obligation had ceased under this District’s 2008 opinion in Edwards v. Edwards 162 Cal.App.4th 136.
In Edwards, Div. Two held that a parent did not have to pay support where the child reached the age of 18 and moved away to college.
But Robie said “[t]he Family Code dictates that the decision in Edwards be read more narrowly than” Schopfer argued, writing:
“The duty to pay child support ‘continues as to an unmarried child who has attained the age of 18 years, is a full-time high school student, and who is not self-supporting, until the time the child completes the 12th grade or attains the age of 19 years, whichever occurs first.’…
“Thus, a child turning 18 years old does not render the formula for guideline child support inapplicable, as father contends. On the contrary, when, as here, a child turns 18 but has not yet completed high school, guideline child support is not only applicable, it is statutorily required. The decision in Edwards is inapposite.”
Robie also concluded that the trial court did not err in requiring Schopfer to pay support while his daughter was in boarding school where Bonebrake introduced evidence that all support in the prior 11 months—over $72,000—was used to pay tuition and that the child had additional expenses, and where Schopfer failed to support his argument that child’s mother’s estate paid all of her expenses.
The justice added that the fact that Schopfer’s daughter’s high school was a boarding school did not alter the court’s conclusion.
Presiding Justice Arthur G. Scotland and Justice Rick Sims joined Robie in his opinion.
The case is In re Marriage of Schopfer, 10 S.O.S. 2613.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company