People in the Interest of E.Q.
2020 COA 118. No. 20CA0089. Dependency and Neglect—Allocation of Parental Responsibilities—Child Support—Social Security Disability Benefits—Representative Payee.
July 30, 2020
The juvenile court adjudicated the children dependent and neglected based on the parties’ stipulation. Two months later, the parties reached a stipulation concerning parental responsibilities for the children. As pertinent here, the stipulation provided that mother would be the children’s custodian and have sole decision-making responsibilities and the domestic relations court would determine child support. Mother filed a motion asking the juvenile court to order father to release his prior three months of Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits to her. Father filed a written objection to the motion. The juvenile court held a hearing and found it had jurisdiction to consider child support in a dependency and neglect proceeding. It ordered father to turn over his previous three months of SSDI benefits to mother and to restore mother as the payee of his benefits until further order of the court.
On appeal, father argued that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to issue the child support order addressing his SSDI benefits because it had already ended the case by accepting the parties’ stipulation to defer child support to the domestic court. The Children’s Code expressly authorizes a juvenile court to enter an order addressing child support when it maintains jurisdiction in a case involving a child who is dependent and neglected and no child custody action or action for the allocation of parental responsibilities concerning the same child is pending in a district court. Here, although mother initiated a separate domestic relations proceeding, no party asserted that a custody or parental responsibilities action was pending in that case. Consequently, the domestic relations proceeding did not affect the juvenile court’s jurisdiction to determine child support. Further, the record shows that the court considered both mother’s motion to release father’s SSDI benefits and the parties’ request for the court to approve their stipulation at the same time, and it granted both requests as part of the same order, which it later certified to the domestic relations court. Thus, the juvenile court was not divested of jurisdiction to issue an order concerning the children’s support.
Father also contended that the juvenile court was precluded from considering mother’s request to release his SSDI benefits by the parties’ stipulation. The terms of the stipulation did not restrict the court’s authority to consider mother’s request. However, the juvenile court contradicted itself by ordering father to release his SSDI benefits while at the same time adopting the parties’ stipulation that child support would be addressed through their domestic relations case. These provisions cannot be reconciled.
Father also argued that the juvenile court erred by failing to apply the child support provisions in the Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act (UMDA). When the juvenile court determines child support in a dependency and neglect proceeding, it must follow the provisions for establishing child support orders under article 6 of the Children’s Code, and the UMDA provides that the child support guidelines apply to child support obligations established or modified under article 6 of the Children’s Code. Here, the court did not consider relevant facts related to the children’s needs or the children’s financial resources and earning abilities, nor did it consider the child support guidelines. Therefore, the court erred.
Father further argued that the juvenile court’s order requiring him to name mother as the payee of his SSDI benefits violates federal law. SSDI benefits constitute income for child support purposes. However, the Social Security Act does not permit a state court to determine who should serve as a representative payee. Thus, the juvenile court lacked authority to require father to name mother as representative payee for his SSDI benefits.
The child support portion of the judgment was reversed and the case was remanded to vacate the provision of the order requiring father to designate mother as the representative payee of his SSDI benefits. The court must also either redetermine child support or certify the issue into the parties’ domestic relations case.
Dependency and Neglect, Allocation of Parental Responsibilities, Child Support, Social Security Disability Benefits, Representative Payee.