In Johnson v Mayer a mother and father, in the midst of a divorce, agreed to a joint custody Order for their only daughter. This Order was granted at a preliminary case conference in what ultimately became a lengthy litigation.
In complete disregard of the joint custody Order, the father took deliberate steps to alienate the child and deter her from having a relationship with the mother.
The father’s emotionally manipulative conduct affected the child. After struggling to maintain a relationship with her daughter, the mother gave up her pursuit with the hope that her daughter would finish her high school years with some semblance of normalcy. The child stopped visiting her mother. And as a result the child was primarily in her father’s care.
During this time, the mother was not paying child support – the father sought to recover the child support at trial.
The court in its response recognized and criticized the father’s conduct, faulting him entirely for the broken relationship between mother and daughter. He was accused of causing significant emotional damage to the child likely to affect her adult relationships.
On the point of child support the court noted that during almost the entirety of the litigation, the father was in contempt of the joint custody Order. The father was ordered by the court to maintain joint custody throughout the litigation. Had he complied with the court Order (as he agreed to), the child would have benefited from the financial support of both parents.
The father argued that child support is for the child, not the parent, and therefore his conduct is unrelated to his right to child support. However, the father was held in contempt of court for failing to comply with the joint custody Order. This led the court to refuse him any child support during the period he was in contempt. [The court specifically noted that there was no evidence the father was unable to provide adequate support for the child.]
This case gives rise to an egregious set of facts that ultimately led the court to reject the father’s claims and condemn his vindictive conduct. This unique set of facts resulted in a just decision – one that presents an important principle: a parent should not be entitled to child support when they are in contempt of court on a matter related to the child.