ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A new ruling by a New Mexico appellate court says that people whose parental rights are terminated don’t have to pay child support previously ordered under a divorce decree.
Termination of parental rights severs the parent-child relationship entirely, the state Court of Appeals ruling says.
“The fundamental and terrible act of severing the parent-child relationship cuts off all connection between them except as specifically excepted by the Legislature,” Judge Michael Bustamante wrote for the three-judge panel.
The unanimous ruling last week was issued in the case of a divorced Dona Ana County couple, the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/1eaXv2e ) reported.
The couple married in 1984 and divorced in 1990. The decree included an order that the father pay $600 a month in child support for the couple’s two children.
The father’s parental rights were terminated in 1993 following allegations of mental and physical abuse, but a judge in 2010 ordered the father to pay $117,502 of overdue support.
The 1993 termination order made no mention of child support, and the father appealed the trial judge’s order.
The Court of Appeals ruling overturns that order.
The mother argued the law dealt with the rights of the parent, not a parent’s duties toward a child, so a child’s “inherent right to support from the parent persists” even after parental rights are ended.
The father argued that if the Legislature had intended a continuing duty of child support, it would have explicitly said so.
The panel said that 1985 changes to New Mexico adoption law removed a reference to a parent’s “duties and obligations” after termination.
That reveals lawmakers’ intent because such a significant change “would seemingly require definitive action by the Legislature,” the ruling said.