June 13, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The Texas judicial system is hard about the task of ruining a thoroughly decent man and excellent father, a man whose current girlfriend calls him “a saint.” That man is Ryan West, about whom I first wrote here. West’s case appears from here to be one of outright, unconcealed anti-dad bias on the part of not one but two family court judges.
West is such a good dad that Judge Margaret Barnes awarded him primary custody of his daughter Alanna. He has her about 70% of the time, his ex has her the rest. The bias appears when she awarded child support. Barnes ordered West, the custodial father, to pay child support to his ex, the non-custodial parent. Now that’s not supported in the child support guidelines that are supposed to direct judges’ rulings, but Barnes did it anyway.
Gilding the lily, Barnes also utterly ignored the fact that West’s ex had testified under oath that she was capable of earning $80,000 per year marketing ads for the Yellow Pages. Normally, that would have significantly reduced the amount West had to pay, but Judge Barnes refused to recognize the facts of the matter, including that she’d failed to get a full-time job.
She also refused to impute income to West’s ex-wife. She’d worked for the Yellow Pages, but testified that she’d voluntarily quit the job to spend more time with their daughter. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma and graduated from the Cordon Bleu culinary institute and is therefore capable of earning a good living. By her own testimony, she refused to do so and was (and is) voluntarily underemployed. Ergo, under the clear terms of Texas statute and case law, Judge Barnes should have imputed income to West’s ex. But she didn’t.
Into the bargain, the Office of the Attorney General decided that, despite the fact that he has primary custody of his daughter and that such is the definition of “custodial parent” according to its own words, West is the non-custodial parent.
Finally, because West is an honorable man, he began paying child support to his ex directly, before there was an order issued by Judge Barnes directing him to pay it to the AG’s Office. He of course had all the cancelled checks showing the amount paid, to whom they’d been paid and that they were for child support. But the OAG decided that he hadn’t paid a dime and threatened to put him in jail.
That more or less brings us up to this time last year. Did things get better? On one hand they got a bit better, on the other they got a lot worse. What they didn’t get was more sensible or more in line with Texas law.
West’s ex married her boyfriend. He earns about $13,000 per month. She remains vastly underemployed, working at a community college teaching one culinary course for half a semester twice a year. That’s a total of 160 hours/per year. Again, this is a woman with a college education and a certificate from a prominent culinary institute.
With all that extra income that’s attributable to her by Texas law, West went back to court claiming a change in circumstances that he expected would lead to him receiving support from his ex-wife. Indeed, given the fact that his ex-wife has significant resources, is underemployed and that he’s the custodial parent, she should be paying him.
The case went to court, this time in a different county and before a different judge, Cynthia Wheless of the 417th District Court. Her ruling was every bit as weird as Judge Barnes’s earlier one.
First, Wheless agreed that a change of circumstances had occurred due to the remarriage and increased monetary resources of West’s ex. She then announced in open court that she didn’t want to undo what Judge Barnes had done.
Note to Judge Wheless: when a change of circumstances occurs, that’s what you do; you change the existing order. It’s the whole point of finding a change in circumstances.
She then went on to, yes, change that previous order. She of course maintained Ryan West as the primary parent and maintained his parenting time. After all, he’s the great dad he’s always been. But then Wheless went off the rails. Put simply, she started making stuff up, i.e. Texas law.
Texas law requires that child support be sufficient for the custodial parent to provide the child with adequate circumstances for living. It doesn’t contemplate that the custodial parent do so for the non-custodial parent. Judge Wheless ordered that West pay child support to his ex and his ex pay child support to him in offsetting amounts. What that means is anyone’s guess.
She also found that applying the guidelines to this case would have been “unjust and inappropriate.” She didn’t say why. She made no findings of fact in support of that claim. She just pulled it out of, er, thin air. A court in Texas may not deviate from the child support guidelines unless it makes findings explaining why it did so. Indeed, neither party to the case requested that the guidelines shouldn’t govern the child support calculation. But, with neither pleadings nor facts in support of her action, Wheless did so anyway.
By mysterious arithmetic, that meant that West’s child support obligation decreased from over $1,700 per month to $700 per month. That’s how things got better.
Weirder still, Wheless based her action on the notion that the child didn’t have “adequate resources” at each home. Now, the issue of adequate resources has only to do with the situation at the custodial parent’s residence, so considering whether West’s ex has adequate resources for the child has no basis in the law of the state.
It also has no basis in fact. Unsurprisingly, neither party offered any evidence of inadequate resources at either residence. That’s probably because (a) West’s resources are adequate, (b) whether the resources at his ex’s home are adequate is irrelevant to the case and (c) in any event, the resources of a man who earns $13,000 per month plus his wife’s income are clearly adequate to care for a single child.
Wheless ignored all of that, made up some law to suit herself and issued a ruling for which there was no evidence. Amazing, but true.
So Ryan West no longer has to pay as much to his ex-wife/non-custodial parent as before. Unfortunately, this by-now-five-year process has all but bankrupted him. He’s an intelligent, hard-working, educated man. He works for JP Morgan Chase and earns a good living, more than enough for him and his daughter. But fighting the madness that is his child support case has cost him about $200,000 and counting. That’s how things have gotten worse for him. He’s hemorrhaging money and he doesn’t have an unlimited supply.
From here it looks like both judges simply decided to transfer wealth from a father to a mother and did what was necessary to accomplish that task regardless of facts, regardless of law. In any event, this case is a disgrace because of their unprincipled abuses of their power. The ultimate irony of course is that, because of their incompetence and apparent anti-father bias, Ryan West is strapped for cash, cash that he could be using for his daughter’s benefit.
He’s appealing Wheless’ awful decision. That’ll cost more money. If he wins, the appellate court will likely just return the case to the trial court. Given what we’ve seen to date, anything can happen there.
I’ll say a bit more about this case tomorrow.
"I’m involved to bring attention to an issue that’s very important to me — our childrens’ need for real co-parenting."
By Stefan Jouret, Esq., Member, Massachusetts Executive Committee