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

Appeals Court Reverses St. Charles Judge on Past Due Child Support Decision

“It doesn’t pay to be a weasel.” That’s not a legal term, but my husband’s summation after reading about the case that is the subject of this column.

 

It begins with the 1996 divorce of “Harry” and “Sally” (not their real names) in St. Charles County. The court awarded Harry the primary custody of the couple’s only child, “Little Joe” (not his real name). Sally was ordered to pay $378.00 in monthly child support.

 

Presumably, all was peaceful until 2000 when Little Joe enrolled at “Out-Of-Town University”. In October 2000, Little Joe sent his mother a copy of his letter of conditional acceptance at OOTU along with a list of his first semester classes.

 

Thereafter, for each semester, Little Joe dutifully sent his mother a copy of his grades, the courses he completed, the credits received, and a list of courses and credits he was enrolled in for the upcoming semester. He also included a print-out of his transcript retrieved from the OOTU web site.

 

Concurrently, starting in October 2000 as Little Joe began his college career, his mother stopped paying support, never making another payment even though Little Joe remained enrolled full-time in good standing, while also living with his father during semester breaks.

 

In 2003, dad filed a motion for contempt against the mom with the St. Charles County Circuit Court, based on mom’s failure to pay child support while Little Joe was matriculating at OOTU. Dad was relying on the Missouri statute that extends a parent’s support obligation beyond the child’s 18th birthday when the child is enrolled in “an institution of vocational or higher education”. He also asked the court to order mom to reimburse him for the attorney’s fees he incurred pursuing the suit.

 

Mom argued that since Little Joe failed to provide her with an “official” transcript of his progress at OOTU, she was no longer obligated pay for Little Joe’s support. She pointed to the language of the same statute that dad relied on, which said that the parent receiving the support was required to provide a “transcript or similar official document” as proof of the child’s continuing enrollment in good standing.

 

Mom even produced a OOTU manager who testified that the printout of the transcript, obtained from the university’s web site, lacked “official” status because it was not printed on OOTU stationary and did not bear the university’s seal, even though it was otherwise identical to the “official” transcript.

 

Shockingly, the St. Charles court agreed, denying dad’s motion for most of the past due support while only awarding him a minimal amount of attorney’s fees. It concluded that mom was only required to pay support for the period of Little Joe’s first semester, but not thereafter, because the transcripts proffered were not “official”.

 

Thankfully, the Missouri Court of Appeals intervened. It found that there was no indication in the statute that an “official” transcript was required and that the documentation provided by Little Joe met or exceeded the legislative intent in every way. The Court sent the case back to St. Charles County ordering the court to make a support award consistent with their findings, while also strongly suggesting that the lower court relook at its decision regarding attorney’s fees.

 

When this case was first heard in 2005, $13,230 in child support arrearage, plus $5,292 in interest, was due. However, many months have elapsed since then at 1% interest per month with the Appellant Court’s ruling just issued on January 2nd. Clearly, with the passage of time, the price of poker, or weaseling, has gone up.