We live in a politically correct world where all people are supposed to be treated as equals. Which is why I found a recent family law case is particularly noteworthy.
In the legal system, a child becomes an adult when he or she turns 18. The court treats them like adults, punishes them like adults, gives them the freedoms and responsibilities of adults.
Not in the case of divorce.
Is it good that we treat children of divorce different from other children? I’m not sure. But we do treat them differently.
One instance of that occurs when an 18-year-old child is still in high school and living at home. In that case, a parent is still obligated to pay child support – until the age of 19 and a half, or until the child graduates high school, whichever comes first.
So if a parent is obligated to pay child support, shouldn’t the child be obligated to spend time with each parent as decreed in the divorce judgment?
You might think so.
The case I was arguing involved a child who did not want to go to his dad’s house for parenting time, but his dad still had to pay child support. He decided he didn’t like dad’s rules, so he lived with his mom.
I argued based on my interpretation of the relevant statute, (Section 722.27(1)(c) of the Child Custody Act), that the court had the authority to enforce the parenting time schedule set forth in the parties’ Judgment of Divorce.
Think about it practically: if the dad (my client) had to pay child support, then shouldn’t he also have the right to see his son and continue to parent him?
Shouldn’t the mom continue to be obligated to send the son over to dad’s house as she had to when he was younger than 18?
The Judge disagreed with my interpretation of the law.
“Oh, so now we’re going to treat children of divorce differently than other children?” I challenged – we do.
“Yes,” the Judge replied. “Maybe we are. They are having a different life experience, after all.”
Not only do I believe in consistency, but I believe the law requires it as well, so, in the case of divorce if the court can mandate that child support continue to be paid on behalf of a child, I believe the court should also modify or enforce the parenting time agreement.
My argument was that the statute provides the Court with the authority “to modify or amend its previous orders for proper cause shown or because of change of circumstances until the child reaches 18 years of age and, subject to section 5b of the support and parenting time enforcement act . . . [that requires a parent to pay child support] . . . until the child reaches 19 years and 6 months of age.”
Simply put: if the Court wanted to enforce it, the precedent exists.
Said the Judge: “When you’re 18, you’re an adult in the eyes of the law. That’s the age of majority, and the courts don’t retain jurisdiction over you except for child support purposes. A parent still has to pay child support for that child until he/she graduates from high school or turns 19 1/2, whichever happens first.”
Interesting, isn’t it? If you are not divorced, when your child turns 18, you no longer have a legal obligation to support him/her. You also, legally, can’t make him/her attend school.
And yet, is that realistic if your child is still living in your house?
It comes down to a question of whether the law should say (more clearly and without fear of the unpopular result) that an 18-year-old child still needs guidance and parental support.
There are so many children in this country – and throughout the world – with no parents to guide their way. They are desperate for the love and nurturing that comes with guiding parental oversight. When we have it, we want to shrug it off.
I suggest that we look at a broader picture of “need” when it comes to family – parenting time may be a pain for an older teen, but that precious guidance a parent can offer is priceless. Let’s not throw away the very compass that has set us on the right course up until now.