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Child Support in Oregon: Important 2001 OR Supreme Court Ruling

Posted by attorney Diane Gruber

In it’s April 26, 2001 decision, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed an Oregon statute that places financial burdens on non-married parents that is not forced upon married parents.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from treating some citizens differently than other citizens: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws"

In 1973, the Oregon Legislature decided that divorced and paternity parents would be required, BY STATUTE, to finance their adult children’s forays into post-high school learning. There is no such statutory requirement that requires married parents to provide a dime for ANY purpose to sons and daughters who have reached majority. Indeed, past age 16 married parents are not even required to get their kids to the front steps of the high school building, although they are required to support their kids UNTIL each reaches the age of majority. Since 1973, the age of majority has been age 18. At 18 we can vote, we can enter into binding contracts, we can live wherever we like, we can travel to the other side of the world, AND we can force BOTH parents to send us a monthly check. There are just two “conditions" that must be met: 1) our parents don’t reside together and 2) we are enrolled in ANY type of school part-time (10 credit hours per term) maintaining a “C" average. We can extort these payments from mom and dad until age 21 so long as we continue with our basket-weaving classes. We are not even required to declare and work toward obtaining a degree.

For years family law attorneys, recognizing that this statute tramples the 14th Amendment with mud-covered boots, or should I say ducks, have speculated over just when a trial judge would be brave enough to officially recognize and comply with the U.S. Constitution, and thereby incur the wrath of the powerful politically-correct crowd who has long controlled the Oregon Judiciary, the Oregon State Bar and the Oregon Legislature. In 1997 Circuit Court Judge Paula Kurshner, (Multnomah County) ruled that “ORS 107.108 permits a child support obligation to be imposed upon one class of citizens . . . while no provisions exists permitting such an obligation to be imposed in like circumstances upon married parents." She ruled that Dennis Crocker did not have to make “child" support payments because his 18-year-old daughter decided to go to college. His ex-wife, Marianne Groom, appealed this decision to the Court of Appeals who reversed Judge Kurshner’s ruling, stating that there is a “rational basis for a distinction between divorced parents and cohabiting married parents." Mr. Crocker then appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court.

The Oregon Supreme Court refused to address the issue of constitutionality. In a tortured reasoning process that utilized an obscure statute adopted in 1889, the court came up with an excuse for discriminating against divorced and paternity parents. Neither the father’s attorney nor the mother’s attorney used this antiquated statute, ORS 108.110, as supporting either side of this dispute. However, the Support Enforcement Division and the Oregon Attorney General, in it’s “friend of the court" brief brought up this statute. That was all the court needed to know. They had their marching orders from the State, and they marched all over the U.S. Constitution, not to mention the Oregon Constitution, and a significant number of Oregon’s citizens.

The childless, never-divorced and/or naive among us might very well ask “Why should Support Enforcement or the Attorney General care whether or not parents must pay ‘child’ support for adult children?" The State of Oregon intercepts the great majority of child support payments paid between mothers and fathers and runs the money through the State’s coffers before sending it to the college student or the custodial parent. While these funds are being held by the State, the State earns interest on it. This interest is not turned over to the parent or college student.

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