Brief Fact Summary. A former husband unsuccessfully petitioned to reduce his child support obligation, alleging that such a modification was justified by changed circumstances, including a permanent decrease in his income, his remarriage and his three children from this marriage, and his former wife’s remarriage.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Child Support Guidelines providing that the issue of subsequent children may only be raised in a proceeding for an upward modification of an existing award and may not be applied to justify a decrease in an existing awarded are not unconstitutional based on the rational basis standard.
Issue. Did the trial court err in finding that the Child Support Guidelines were constitutional and that he failed to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances.
Held. The trial court correctly determined that the Guidelines were constitutional and husband failed to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances.
Husband first alleges that the Child Support Guidelines are unconstitutional, in stating that the issue of subsequent children may only be raised in a proceeding for an upward modification of an existing award and may not be applied to justify a decrease in an existing awarded.
Because neither a suspect classification nor a fundamental right is involved, the rational basis standard of review is appropriate. The legitimate state interest involved is that it assures that noncustodial parents will continue to contribute to the support of their children from their first marriage notwithstanding their obligation to support children born during a subsequent marriage. The guidelines bear a reasonable relationship to this legitimate state purpose. A noncustodial parent who elects to become responsible for supporting the children of a second marriage does so with the knowledge of his continuing responsibility to the children of his first marriage.
The trial court was also correct in determining that the former husband failed to show a substantial change of circumstances in that he failed to meet his burden of proving a permanent, involuntary, and substantial change in circumstances.
Dissent. The legitimate state interest in question is the preference of certain children over others. It is inappropriate for the state to punish the children of a second marriage because their parent was involved in a previous divorce. This discourages parents from having a second family, and there is no legitimate state purpose in discriminating between children on the fact of a divorce.
Discussion. The majority found that guidelines were rationally related to the legitimate state interest in assuring that noncustodial parents continue to provide for the children of their first marriage.