What happens if a parent throws a teenage child out of the home and continues to collect child support? In short – sanctions. Those were the facts in a recent unpublished New Jersey Appellate Division decision, Lidon v. Lidon, Appellate Division, docket no. A-3355-08T3, decided December 28, 2009.
In Lidon, James and Jean Lidon were divorced in 1997. Both parents were practicing attorneys. They had two children who resided with Jean. James paid $337 per week in child support to Jean. The eldest child, a senior in high school, allegedly had a drug and alcohol problem. As a result, Jean threw their son out of her home in the summer of 2007. This child subsequently lived with friends, in his car, and finally with Jean’s former boyfriend. He finished the school year and was accepted into Lehigh University.
James only discovered that their son was no longer living with Jean in the spring of 2008, at which time he filed a motion seeking custody of the eldest child, termination of child support, sanctions for failing to inform him of the child’s whereabouts, and a reduction of support for the younger child. Jean cross-moved seeking reimbursement of unreimbursed medical expenses, sanctions for failing to exercise parenting time, and payment for a car that she unilaterally purchased for the eldest child. Jean also sought to have her responsibility to pay for college expenses terminated because she no longer had a relationship with the eldest child.
The Appellate Division affirmed the Trial Court’s order that gave custody of the eldest child to James, terminated child support for the eldest child, modified support for the younger child, and imposed sanctions of $3,120 on Jean for failing to inform James that the eldest son had moved out of her home. The order also denied Jean’s motion and imputed $100,000 income to her for being underemployed.
This case exemplifies the myriad issues that couples face as children mature, face adult issues, and begin to move toward emancipation. Although there was a strained relationship between both parents and their eldest child, the custodial parent had an affirmative obligation to inform the parent paying child support that the child was no longer residing in the home. Furthermore, the custodial parent did not have a right to continue receiving child support when they were no longer caring for the child. While the facts of the case may be considered extreme, it does show how a court will protect the interests of a parent and will sanction those parents who do not keep the non-custodial parent informed of such important issues. Animosity aside, communication is vital when children are involved.