Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)
314.727.4880

Parents Can Be Ordered To Pay Support Even For A Child Removed From The Home

Last week’s column dealt with how a child, with the aid of an adult, can be “divorced” from their parents, through either emancipation, a guardianship, or termination of the original parents’ rights and adoption by new parents.

                                     

With emancipation, the child is effectively declared an adult because the court is convinced that child is fully capable of living on its own. However, in a guardianship as well as when parental rights are terminated to allow adoption, the child is assumed to still require the guidance and support of a suitable adult. The main issue is determining if the parents are fit for that task. If not, then another adult or couple is made the guardian(s) or adoptive parent(s). Guardianships can be temporary if the parents later prove the guardianship is no longer necessary, but emancipation or adoption permanently remove the parents from the scene.

 

I have described this as a “divorce” because an adult initiates the action – often a close relative or friend—on the child’s behalf, rather than an action initiated by juvenile authorities when there is clear evidence of abuse, neglect or abandonment. An adult is needed in Missouri because a child cannot sue on their own behalf.

 

According to Allan F. Stewart, an attorney and one of Missouri’s foremost authorities on juvenile law, filing for a guardianship can be a good approach where alienation between child and parents is the result of a “bad match”, rather than parental abuse or neglect that would warrant terminating their rights. Even so, the person seeking the guardianship must prove that the parents are unable, unwilling or unfit for parenting the child.

 

Stewart suggested that mental health experts, particularly those familiar with the specific situation, could be called to testify as to difficulties the parents have had in meeting the needs of a difficult and troubled child. They may offer the judgment that a different home environment, and a fresh start, would be in the child’s best interests, and perhaps the parents as well.

 

But, could the parents be ordered to pay child support to the guardian, even though they no longer have authority over the child? “That’s an open issue”, says Stewart, and “one that I don’t believe there is a clear precedent for in Missouri. But, it is certainly possible. The guardianship does not terminate parental rights and as such their obligation to support the child continues, versus an adoption where the parents’ duty to support ceases once their rights are terminated.”

 

Stewart said that it is very common for the juvenile court, when it removes a child from the parental home and places it in foster care or with a relative, to order the parents to pay support. This would seem to be a parallel circumstance.

 

However, there is also the situation where a child runs away, or has been tossed out, and ends up living with a relative or friend. According to Stewart, that third party could sue the parents for support, but winning would be unusual. The parents simply have to respond that the child is welcome back in the house, will be provided the necessities of life, and only be required to abide by the “reasonable rules” that they lay down. Once that offer is made, the person seeking support has to prove either that the rules are not reasonable or that necessities will not be provided. Should they make that case, according to Stewart, the judge is more likely to turn the situation over to the juvenile authorities to remove the child permanently. Or, if the case isn’t made, order the kid to return home.