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Fathers and Families

Appeal Court Reverses Judge Who
Manhandled Dad in Child Support Case
January 11, 2012
Top Story

Appeal Court Reverses Judge Who Manhandled Dad in Child Support Case

Should a noncustodial parent have to pay child support based on an income they no longer come close to earning? Apparently Orange County Superior Court Judge Ronald Kreber thinks they do.

We've reported recently on two Orange County, California cases where fathers fought and defeated abusive child support practices [see Rein in Orange County Department of Child Support Services (Orange County Register, 12/10/11)]:

  • In the Pedro Soto case, OCDCSS attempted to force years of child support upon a man who they knew was not the child's father--while the child was living with his biological mother and father!
  • In the paternity case involving Angels' third baseman Alberto Callaspo, OCDCSS intervened on its own initiative to almost triple Callapso's monthly obligation. Callaspo was able to prove that the child in question is not his, spiking OCDCSS' bid.

In the most recent case, home-building executive James Lockington lost his $15,000 a month job when the housing bubble burst, making it impossible for him to pay his $2,074 a month child support obligation to his ex-wife Tricia. He'd sold his house at a loss, maxxed out his credit cards, and was living with his sister to avoid becoming homeless.

He tried to get a downward modification (contested by Tricia), but Judge Kreber was opposed. According to the OC Weekly:

During an August 2010 hearing about Lockington's request, Kreber acknowledged the man's dire financial shape, but stated he thinks "the children are entitled to the same lifestyle that they had before."

He told the man to get a job a Starbucks and didn't care that he'd strenuously tried to get another high-paying job.

Kreber added that he didn't think it would be "right" to calculate into the child support equation the fact that Lockington had lost his income.

Judge Kreber's attitude is common in child support cases--under no circumstances must the children's (or ex-wife's) lifestyles be altered in the slightest. Yet if mom and dad were still married and one of them were laid off, the family would tighten all belts.

Lockington appealed the ruling, and the Fourth District Court of Appeal determined that Judge Kreber "abused his discretion" by relying on an "erroneous" understanding of the law. Justice Richard Aronson wrote:

A trial court must evaluate a request to modify child support based on the parent's current financial circumstances, not the financial circumstances that existed during the marriage. The court cannot require James to pay an amount in child support he clearly has no ability to pay.

We commend Aronson and his fellow justices Kathleen O'Leary and William Bedsworth for their ruling. To learn more about the case, click here.

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