Are you a parent paying child support for two or more children? If so,
then you will want to be aware of this case.
On February 19, 2018 the New Hampshire Supreme Court decided the case of
“In the Matter of Wendy S. White and Michael L. White”. 181
A.3d 239 (2018). In this case, the Mother and the Father were married
and had two children. They divorced in 2003, when their two children were
minors. The terms of their divorce were set out in an agreement that was
approved by the court. The agreement provided that the Father was to pay
child support for the two children, and it incorporated a Uniform Support
Order (USO) that required him to pay child support. In June 2014, the
parties' older child became emancipated upon graduation from high
school. In August 2016, the Father petitioned for review of his child
support obligation. Specifically, he wanted to modify his child support
obligation based upon the emancipation of the parties' older child
in June 2014 and to have that modification be made retroactive to July 1, 2014.
The Father argued that his child support obligation for the emancipated
child automatically terminated upon the child’s emancipation without
the need for him to take any further legal action. The Mother argued,
among other things, that any change in child support could only be made
retroactive to the date the Father served her with notice of his petition
to modify child support in August 2016, not back to July 1, 2014.
The Court agreed with the Mother, concluding that when an order establishes
a support obligation for one child, RSA 461-A:14, IV allows for the termination
of that support obligation under the enumerated circumstances without
further legal action. However, when an order establishes a support obligation
for more than one child but does not specify the amount of a new child
support obligation for the remaining unemancipated children upon the termination
of a support obligation for one of the children, a parent must apply to
the court for modification of the child support order. Further, the Court
agreed that modification of child support could only be made retroactive
to the date of notice of the petition to modify child support.
As a result, parents paying child support for two or more children need
to take care to petition to modify child support when their older child
becomes emancipated. Parents should also be reminded that an out-of-court
agreement to modify child support is ineffective. Modification requires
a new USO that gets approved by the court.