When spouses with minor children divorce, the most important issue to resolve is how the kids will be taken care of. That includes securing their financial stability. Child support awards are intended to ensure that parents provide for essentials like food, shelter, clothing and healthcare, and may cover other areas, such as education expenses. In In re Marriage of Bush, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently explained that the healthcare portion of a support award also includes less common expenses, like those related to orthodontia.
Wife filed for divorce from Husband – the father of her two children – in 2004. Two years later, a family court dissolved the marriage and ordered Husband to pay more than $300 a month in spousal support and nearly $600 per month in child support. The latter award was modified several times based on Husband’s financial circumstances and the fact the one of the children eventually turned 18. Nevertheless, Husband fell into arrears of more than $14,000 by August 2012.
Following a series of hearings, a family court noted that Husband was set to start receiving nearly $1,500 in Social Security benefits. As a result, the court ordered him to pay $742 of that money for ongoing child support ($350) for his minor son and to cover past arrearages. It also ordered Husband to pay an additional $95 to Wife each month to cover his share of the child’s orthodontia expenses.
Reversing the decision on appeal, the Fourth District said the orthodontia expenses should have been covered by the derivative Social Security benefit that Husband was ordered to pay for child support.
“Family Code section 4504 states that derivative Social Security benefits paid to a noncustodial parent’s child ‘shall be credited toward the amount ordered by the court to be paid by the noncustodial parent for support of the child.’” Thus, the court said, the question was whether the orthodontia expense qualified as a typical child support expense. It found that the expense was simply a type of healthcare cost, the kind generally covered by child support. “[T]he orthodontia expenses – as part of [Husband]’s child support obligations – should have been satisfied through the Child’s derivative Social Security benefit,” the Court concluded.
Husband also challenged the family court’s decision to continue requiring him to pay more than $300 per month in spousal support for Wife. The appellate court said it couldn’t consider the issue, however, because the lower court’s ruling wasn’t final and therefore not yet subject to appeal. The lower court simply said it would keep the current spousal support in place until an additional hearing was held the next month. The judge said he wanted to consider any changes in circumstances, given that Wife had recently become unemployed and was receiving jobless benefits. “Husband’s appeal on the spousal support issue is premature,” the Fourth District ruled.
Child and spousal support are just two of the many contentious issues that can arise in a California divorce case. If you’re considering seeking a divorce in California, contact San Jose divorce lawyer John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve support and other issues on optimal terms. Call our office at (408)297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
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