It's natural for parents to want to seek every possible benefit for their child. However, they must be careful how they go about doing this because, if the effort involves attempts to cheat the system, the outcome might not be what they might have hoped.
One example was noted recently in the case of L.M. v. K.A.before the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. There, the mother of a child allowed her own parents to obtain guardianship of the child in order to obtain the military benefits her father received as a service member, although she lived in the same household with the child as well. This might not have been an issue but for the fact that she had also sought – and obtained – child support from the child's father. Because she was not the one with guardianship of the child, it was not within her right to collect those child supp0rt payments – even if they were going to the child.
According to court records, mother and father – who never married – lived together for about a year after the child was born before separating in 2008. For another year, child remained with mother in the same area. However, mother and child then moved to live with child's maternal grandparents in Kentucky. Mother and child moved several times after that with grandparents.
In 2009, trial court – at mother's request – ordered father to pay $500 monthly in child support. Two years later, father filed a petition seeking a judgment declaring he'd overpaid child support, finding mother in contempt and terminating his child support obligation while awarding him visitation. In his petition, he alleged grandparents had been granted limited guardianship even before mother sought child support.
A trial was held on these allegations in October 2013, and grandparents' petition for limited guardianship were entered. The request stated both parents decided to grant them guardianship until they could care for the child. That petition was purportedly signed by both parents, but father asserted his signature was forged. Trial court examined handwriting samples and, finding they did not match, ultimately agreed with father on this fact.
Mother testified her father was an active U.S. Army member, and the limited guardianship was to allow child to be placed on grandfather's “orders.” Specifically, the child could then receive certain health care benefits, travel expenses and attendance in schools on military bases. She stated she had never relinquished custody.
Trial court in June 2014 issued an order awarding father visitation, terminating his child support obligation and ordering mother to repay more than $18,000 she collected over the course of those two years. She was also ordered to pay father's attorney fees and allow father to claim the child for income tax purposes.
Mother filed a post-judgment motion, which was denied. She then appealed.
However, appellate court upheld the findings of trial court. It noted the misrepresentations mother had made to obtain child support. The court noted it had previously allowed a mother exercising physical custody of a child to receive child support payments despite maternal grandparents having legal custody, but in that case, father had been ordered to pay support and failed to do so, even though he had no court order allowing him to cease payments. The court noted in that case the order was case-specific.
Here, mother failed to inform trial court of the guardianship action. Further, the mother in this case was not the legal custodian of the child when she filed for child support payments (unlike the mother in the other case). The mother had a duty to notify the court of the guardianship arrangement.
L.M. v. K.A. , Feb. 20, 2015, Alabama Court of Civil Appeals