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.