Our agreement says no child support, can my ex ask for it anyway?

Can my ex ask for child support? I have a 50/50 custody and no child support divorce agreement, but his mother alienated him against me and now he refuses to visit me. The kid is 16 years old. 

I cannot speak for all jurisdictions, obviously, because 1) I do not know the law in every jurisdiction and 2) I am not licensed to practice law in every jurisdiction, but I can tell you what I know and what I’ve experienced in the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and family law (Utah). 

SHORT ANSWER: Possibly. Likely. 

LONG, MORE EXPLANATORY ANSWER: The scenario is as follows: 

  • the court has made a certain child custody and parent-time award 
  • but the child refuses too comply with the court-ordered child custody and parent time schedule, and spends all of his/her time living with one parent and refuses to spend any time in the care and custody of the other parent 

The questions are : 1) can the fact that the child has, in essence, create a de facto sole custody arrangement, and if so, 2) can that de facto sole custody arrangement result in the de facto noncustodial parent being forced to pay child support to the de facto custodial parent, even though that parent’s de facto noncustodial status is in no way that parent’s fault? 

The answer is: 1) yes, it can (it’s not inevitable, but it can happen), and 2) yes, it can (it’s not inevitable, but it can happen).  

Why? Before I address that question, let’s discuss a bit of child support policy. 

  • Some would argue that the purpose of the child support payment obligation is to ensure that each parent has sufficient funds to provide for the child’s financial needs and maintain a lifestyle commensurate with the parents combined earnings.  
    • So if one parent has a lower income than the other parent, the court will order the more affluent parent to pay the other parent some money to help the less affluent parent maintain the lifestyle that the child ostensibly enjoys when in the care and custody of the more affluent parent. It’s not the only way to craft child support policy, but it’s a reasonable way.  
    • Courts that subscribe to this way of thinking then argue that if a child refuses to comply with, say, a joint physical custody award (resulting in only one parent being burdened with fully or primarily having to shelter, feed, clothe, educate, and entertain the child), it would thus be unfair to burden the de facto primary or sole custodial parent with all the financial burdens associated with the child’s needs.  
    • The other parent, so the thinking goes, needs to pay his/her “fair share” of the child’s financial support needs. When children spend time in the care and custody of both parents, then the financial support burdens are divided between both parents. That make sense. That’s patently fair.  
    • When the child spends all of his/her time in the care and custody of just one parent, then it would be unfair for that parent to be solely responsible for the child’s financial support. If courts followed such a policy, then it is feared that as a means of avoiding the financial obligations of child support, parents would fight to ensure that only one parent has sole or primary custody of the child. 

So even when a court-ordered joint custodial parent has, through no fault of his/her own, been rendered a de facto noncustodial parent by the child refusing to comply with the court’s custody order, many courts (many, not all) might react to this situation by 1) modifying the child custody order to reflect the de facto situation; and 2) consequently modifying the child support award.  

Some courts may take a different approach in such a situation, although such an approach is, in my experience less common. That approach would be based on the idea that children don’t have the power to dictate child custody and parent time schedules to the court; therefore, if a child refuses to comply with the court’s child custody and parent time orders, the court is not going to punish the innocent de facto noncustodial parent. But you can see why such an approach leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many people, not leastwise the de facto custodial parent. 

If the parent in the de facto custodial parent position can prove that he/she did not compel or induce the child to refuse to comply with the court’s custody and parent time orders, that parent could certainly argue that he/she is innocent too, and should not be punished for the circumstances created by a noncompliant child.  

Which raises the next question (and brings the discussion full circle): why not have the court compel the child to comply with its child custody and parent time orders? I have addressed that question on many times, but most recently in response to these two questions here: 

and here: 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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