Friday, July 08, 2011

Summary 2011 WY 105

Summary of Decision July 8, 2011

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Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court

Case Name: Eugene Dale Swaney v. State of Wyoming, Department of Family Services, Child Support Enforcement

Citation: 2011 WY 105

Docket Numbers: S-10-0261

Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County, the Honorable Thomas T.C. Campbell, Judge.

Representing Appellant: Julie Hernandez and Rick Martinez of Legal Aid of Wyoming, Inc., Cheyenne, Wyoming; Wendy S. Ross of Parsons and Cameron, P.C., Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee: Gregory A. Phillips, Wyoming Attorney General; Robin Sessions Cooley, Deputy Attorney General; Jill E. Kucera, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Christina F. McCabe, Assistant Attorney General.

Date of Decision: July 8, 2011

Facts:  Mother and Father, though unmarried, had three children together.  After the parties separated, Mother filed a Petition to Establish Paternity, Custody and Child Support.  Mother obtained custody of the children and Father was ordered to pay child support.  Father later became disabled, which eventually led to the issue presently before this Court: what credit, if any, should Father receive for disability benefit payments received after the disability was determined, against child support arrearages owed before he became disabled.

Issues: Whether the district court may credit Social Security disability benefits paid to dependent children against child support arrearages owed before the obligor became disabled.

Holdings: The Court has dealt previously with the issue of how Social Security disability benefit payments fit into the calculation of a child support obligation.  In short, benefit payments received directly by children are counted as part of the obligor’s income, but are also then credited against the resultant child support obligation.  The district court denied Father’s sought-after credit against pre-disability arrearages, but it did so by following the minority rule.  Under that minority rule, the district court considers the equities of the situation, and exercises its discretion in either granting or denying the petition for credit.  The Court believes that procedure runs contrary to the well-established principle that disability benefits paid to dependent children are the property of those children and runs contrary to the statutory language that allows an “offset” only for the period after benefit payments are being sent to the children’s custodian.

The district court may not credit Social Security disability benefits paid to dependent children against child support arrearages owed before the obligor became disabled.  Such benefits belong to the children, not to the obligor, and therefore are not available to be applied as a credit or offset to amounts owed by the obligor.  The Court affirmed the district court upon the grounds set forth above.

Justice Voigt delivered the opinion for the court. 

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