This post continues yesterday’s regarding the Ryan West child support case.
District Judge Cynthia Wheless ignored the pleadings of the parties, the evidence before her and Texas law in order to rule that Ryan West, the custodial parent, owes child support to his ex-wife. From where I sit, it’s hard to not conclude that Judge Wheless decided the outcome she wanted and simply ruled accordingly.
Consider a few words from West’s brief to the Court of Appeals that will eventually decide the matter.
Child-support payments are for the benefit of the child, not the parents, and should be structured to fairly provide for the best interest of the child, not so that one party or another can make a profit…
An amount of child support established by the guidelines is presumed to be reasonable, and an order conforming to the guidelines is presumed to be in the best interest of the child. § 154.122(a)…
In this case, the trial court modified the child-support order without reference to any guiding rules or principles, resulting in an inequitable order that is not in the best interest of the child and that creates a windfall for Appellee, the non-custodial parent…
Appellee did not dispute that child support should be ordered in accordance with the guidelines…
[T]he court modified the child-support order in a manner not requested by either party and not in conformance with the guidelines or with the recognized exceptions contained in the Family Code…
Had the trial court applied the percentage guidelines contained in Section 154.125, Appellee would owe Appellant $910 per month in child support plus $100 cash reimbursement for medical insurance, and Appellant would not owe child support at all.
Having ignored the evidence before her and the law as found in the Texas Family Code, Judge Wheless then simply invented her own law. She decided that West should pay child support to his non-custodial ex-wife in order to provide “adequate resources” at both residences.
[R]equiring the custodial parent to pay child support to the non-custodial parent to provide for “adequate resources at both residences” has no basis in Texas law.
And even if it was supported by the law, the evidence before the court clearly demonstrated that there are more than adequate resources at each residence to care for the child. So, having invented her own law, Judge Wheless then ignored the evidence that contradicted her preferred outcome, i.e. that Ryan West should continue to support his ex-wife child support and call it child support.
Now, keep in mind that the resources at his ex’s residence are almost entirely the result of her new husband’s employment. She brings in very little money because she works only part-time and barely that. She’s well-educated and the evidence shows her to be capable of earning as much as $80,000 per year, but she has always refused to do so, at least during the pendency of this case. This raises some pithy issues that go beyond the outrageous rulings by two separate judges in this individual case.
Judge Wheless’ ruling is being appealed by West. The appellate decision may become precedent for all future family law cases in the state. Consider what that means.
To begin with, it means that non-custodial parents who choose not to work and earn may receive child support from their custodial counterparts as long as the latter out-earn the former. I wonder how many custodial mothers would look forward to that scenario.
Second, if the case isn’t reversed, Texas law on child support will include the notion - unknown to the Texas Legislature - that higher-earning exes must provide for lower-earning exes in order to ensure adequate resources in the household. That of course means that child support as being for the child will no longer be the law of the land. On the contrary, “child support” will be for the parents in order that all may have “adequate resources.” That of course contradicts decades of statute and case law in the state.
Third, Texas statute law provides 17 items to be considered by judges in deciding whether to deviate from the child support guidelines. Wheless’ desire that both households have “adequate resources” isn’t one of them. So, if the appellate court affirms Wheless’ decision, it will create brand new law on the issue of when the guidelines may be deviated from.
As West’s attorney stated in her brief to the Court of Appeals, “such a rule opens the door to untenable, unreasonable, and inequitable consequences.” The current case is a good example of its doing exactly that.
Attorney Anna Eby went on:
Further, the trial court’s adequate resources rule simply does not work, as it raises questions with no logical answers. The court found that Appellee has $4,550.00 in monthly net resources and implicitly found that this did not provide adequate resources for the child. Yet the court made no findings and offered no explanation of how “adequate resources” should be defined. Is $4,550.00 in monthly net resources automatically inadequate? Given that the median Texas household has monthly net resources of $3,600, this would mean the vast majority of Texas child-support orders must somehow address inadequate resources of one or both parents. Is the inadequacy in this case dependent on Appellant’s income, which exceeds Appellee’s because Appellee does not work full-time? If Appellant had the same net resources as Appellee, would the child then have adequate resources at both residences? In this context, does “adequate” mean “equal,” and is it the Family Code’s intention that child support be used to equalize the financial resources of the parents? Is Appellant responsible for providing adequate resources for the child at Appellee’s residence, even when the child lives full-time with Appellant? Nothing in the Family Code suggests that the Legislature made a policy choice to have custodial parents subsidize the lifestyles of non-custodial parents who choose to work part-time.
The trial court is to make child-support decisions without regard to the sex of the parents or of the child. Yet, were Appellant the child’s mother, the inequity of this order becomes readily apparent. It is difficult to imagine that a mother would be ordered to pay child support to a noncustodial father, in order to equalize the parents’ income, when the mother was the custodial parent, worked full-time, and incurred all of the child’s expenses, while the father was the noncustodial parent, chose to work part-time, refused to share in the child’s expenses (in violation of a court order), and had greater household net resources than the mother. Under such facts, it would seem deeply unjust and inequitable to require the mother to pay child support to the father. Yet, under the exact same facts but with the genders of the parents changed, that is just what the trial court has ordered in this case.
This case is an outrage that fairly screams for reversal. We’ll see what the Court of Appeals decides.