Selected Family Law Appellate Update for week ending 11/10/17

FelixBaseman
FelixBaseman

Lancaster v. Lancaster (First DCA)

The husband and wife entered into a settlement agreement that provided that neither would owe child support to the other.  The wife appealed that trial court’s ratification of this agreement in its final judgment.

The First District reiterated that parents may not contract away or waive the rights of their child for support and that, therefore, the trial court has an “independent duty” to determine the appropriateness of child support provisions in a marital settlement agreement before incorporating them into a final judgment.”  The District Court explained that the starting point for the trial court’s analysis should be the statutory child support guidelines, but that in certain situations it is appropriate for the court to deviate from the guidelines if doing so is in the child’s best interests.

Here, the final judgment stated that it was in “the children’s best interests,” but neither it nor the parties’ settlement agreement addressed the needs of the children or the financial circumstances of the parties.  Lacking this, the District Court was unable to assess whether the trial court “discharged its independent obligation to assess whether the parties’ agreement serves the best interests of the children.”  The Court therefore reverses the judgment and remanded it for additional findings and/or proceedings.