December 28, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
This case could portend the next enormous expansion of the right to receive child support (CBC, 12/14/17). In it, a mother is suing her daughter’s paternal grandparents for child support. Their son, the girl’s father, died in an accident back in 2013. Before and since, the grandparents, Denise Deforge and Conrad Hunter played a significant part in the child’s life, even once gaining temporary custody of her.
Hunter and Deforge did have emergency custody of their granddaughter for eight months about seven years ago by order of the Children's Aid Society.
The fact that the two had custody of the child for eight months, that it came about on an emergency basis and that it was instigated by CAS all strongly suggest that there was some form of child abuse or neglect by the parents that necessitated Hunter and Deforge caring for the child. Given that, I would urge that it is the mother who owes eight months of child support to the grandparents, but apparently that’s a non-issue.
On the contrary, she’s claiming $47,000 in back child support from them and $760 per month ongoing support for the next eight years when the girl turns 18. That’s specifically because Hunter and Deforge have, in the words of the mother’s lawyer, “been more than grandparents to this child.” Indeed, no good deed goes unpunished.
"We love her to pieces, and we'd do anything for her. But she's not our child. It's not our job to pay child support payments," says Deforge.
'Never ever should a grandparent be obligated to pay child support because they want to do what's best for their grandchild."
That’s my take on the matter. The core concept underpinning child support is that anyone who participates in bringing a child into the world should, at the very least, provide for it. That’s sensible. No grandparent makes the decision for two other people to have a child. The parents are either adults or, by making the decision to have a child, act like they are, and therefore should bear the responsibility they’ve assumed. But grandparents play no role in that and shouldn’t carry the weight.
Of course Mom in this case looks to be seeking money from any source available. Dad can’t pay, so who else is there? Ah yes, why not punish Granddad and Grandma who’ve done nothing but love the child and help with her care? This mother who, for reasons that escape me, goes unnamed in the article, looks very much like a deadbeat.
How will the court decide the issue? I haven’t a clue, but, if public policy is of any importance, I know what should happen. And, should Hunter and Deforge lose, I know what they should do next.
As to public policy, we need to stop providing financial incentives to people to divorce. That of course is precisely what requiring grandparents to pay child support would accomplish. What if Dad becomes disabled and can’t earn? Mom needn’t worry about not receiving child support; she can just get it from his parents, or, for that matter, hers. So the road to divorce is made that much straighter and smoother.
Plus, if the court rules for Mom, what message will that send to grandparents? “Don’t do too much for little Andy or Jenny. If you do, you’ll be considered “more than just a grandparent” and be on the hook for payments. Did you not calculate that into your retirement plans? Well, that’s your tough luck.” Is that really the policy we want? Do we really want to discourage grandparents from caring for and loving their grandkids? How many times would Mom really like it if the grandparents would take the children off her hands for a few hours or a day or so? Well, if Hunter and Deforge lose, the decision will urge other grandparents to back off and let Mom fend for herself.
And we want child protective agencies like CAS to seek kinship care when parents are deemed unable to care properly for children. Living for a time with Grandma and Grandpa is usually far preferable to care by strangers. They generally do a better job of it because they love the child and vice versa. And of course the child is less traumatized by the separation from its parents than if it were placed in the usual foster care. So when a children’s welfare agency has to intervene, we definitely want grandparents to step into the breech. The knowledge that they may later be charged with child support will naturally discourage them from doing so.
Plus, as stated above, let’s not further erode the notion that people should be responsible for the choices they make. There’s enough of that disease going around as it is.
Should Hunter and Deforge be forced to pay, I would strongly encourage them to seek primary custody. After all, if they’re going to be paying for the child anyway, why not? And, at this far remove, they seem to be better qualified to care for her. As I said, Mom appears to be a deadbeat and perhaps contributed to child abuse or neglect back in 2010, necessitating temporary custody on the part of the grandparents. That would seem to add up to a pretty fair case for their having primary custody and demanding child support of her.
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