Throughout a custody case, we often advise clients that ultimately, regardless of the trial outcome; they will need to work together with the other parent if they want to promote the best interests of the children. No matter how hurt, angry or detached parties may be to each other, their most important task has to be raising their children to be happy, well-adjusted adults. Â In order to do this, the parties must recognize that their legal entitlements take a back seat to their childrenâ€™s best interests and needs. This is not a process which can, or should, be micromanaged by the judicial system.
Unfortunately, the court system is often ill-equipped to effectively deal with intra-family issues and therefore situations arise where a parents good faith efforts are turned around and used by the other party as ammunition in the ongoing fight. This is exactly what happened in the case of Mayfield v. Mayfield.
Mr. and Mrs. Mayfield were divorced in 2003 pursuant to a Consent Final Judgment which incorporated their parenting agreement. This agreement stipulated that Mrs. Mayfield would be the primary residential parent and Mr. Mayfield would pay child support of $ 1,400 per month (for three children). However, in an attempt to better the lives of his children, and in an attempt to hedge against a future financial downturn; Mr. Mayfield routinely paid more than his minimum obligation resulting in an overage of approximately $ 23,000.
Six years later, when Mr. Mayfield stopped paying these voluntary over-payments his Former Wife sued him and sought an upward modification of his support obligation. The Court held that the very fact that he had voluntarily overpaid is evidence that should be used against him. â€œVoluntary Payments continued over a significant period of time to meet specific needs do have evidentiary value tending to show recognition by the parties of increased needs of a child.â€ Tash v. Oesterle, 380 So.2d 1316 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1980). In other words, no good deed goes unpunished.
Ultimately, Mr. Mayfieldâ€™s child support obligation was increased by $ 482 per month. To make matters worse, the appellate court held that he is not entitled to any off-set for the over-payments previously made and he may have to pay the Former Wifeâ€™s attorney fees.
Mr. Mayfield could have provided the same support to his children, with a far different result; had he run it by his attorney first. His attorney could have drafted simple contract language indicating that his payment of additional support would not be admissible, and could not be used as the basis for, a future claim for modification.