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A Parent’s Obligation to Pay Child Support Exists Independent of Marital Status

Father and Mother lived together for about four years. They had two children during that time before they separated.  A month after the separation, Mother filed the present paternity action. Through their Orange County family law attorneys, they reached a judgment wherein Father would pay monthly child support, and have specified visitation access. In the months following the judgment, Father moved back in with Mother and their two children. Less than a year later, Father moved out again and the attempted reconciliation ended. Father asked the Orange County family law court for his arrearages determination. The resulting order determined that Father was not eligible for any support payment credits from the eight or nine months when he lived with Mother and their children. Father’s Orange County family law attorney appealed.

Can a father receive Jackson credits for any actual in-home child support in a paternity case involving reconciliation?  Yes, a paternity action involving reconciliation and possible support credit should not be treated differently than a marital case involving the same. In a paternity action – distinct from a marital action – a father may be able to receive child support payment credit for reconciliation time spent living with the family. Jackson credits generally refer to credits obtained due to a total child custody change where the noncustodial parent becomes the sole child custodial parent. In Jackson v. Jackson a mother had child custody of her daughter but then allowed the daughter to live with her father. During that time the father expended more per month on the child than the monthly support order.  As a result the family law court credited to the father the actual support expended on the child during that time of complete child custody change, and denied enforcement of the existing child support order because equity required it.  Additionally, the Court in In re Marriage of Matthews, acknowledged that it is equitable to reduce or end child support payments during full months in which a child resided with the noncustodial parent. Giving child support credit to a payor parent does not equate to an improper attempt of modifying a child support order. As a matter of policy, failure to give credit where it is equitable can discourage attempts to reconcile that involve reuniting the payor parent and his or her children via living arrangements.

Additionally, the Family Code, section 3602 is intended to foster reconciliation. Equitable credit based on Jackson, essentially allows a parent to make a support payment in a different way than mailing a check, instead through actual support. Thus a family law court should not preclude a father in a paternity case from Jackson credit by virtue of the case being outside of a divorce proceeding. Here, the court noted that while Father paid rent during the reconciliation time, he did so only for himself which merits no credit. The children and their mother lived with Mother’s father, and had not been paying rent to him, so Father’s act of paying rent was not actual support expended on his children. However Father could receive credit for other expenditures amounting to actual support. The Court of Appeal located in Orange County ultimately determined that Father was eligible for support credit because it saw no reason to treat differently complete child custody changes from periods of time living together as long as child actual support is provided.

Helgestad v. Vargas (2014) 231 Cal.App.4th 719