Sonoma, CA, Mother May Seek Additional Childcare Support to Complete Professional Training

A key goal of child support is to ensure children–and parents–can sustain themselves without the need for public assistance.

California law therefore directs judges to award additional child support to enable parents to obtain professional training. This additional support helps the parent who needs training pay for childcare. In a landmark decision, a California appeals court recently held that such support is available even when a parent already has marketable job skills. The case, Greiner v. Keller, involved a mother who wanted to take evening classes to obtain a paralegal certificate. The mother previously worked part-time for various law offices. But she told the judge her lack of formal training limited her ability to find a full-time position.

The father opposed the request for additional support. He said the mother had found steady work “with her existing job skills.”

And her current employer did not require paralegal certification. It was therefore unreasonable to make him pay for childcare while she sought additional training. A Sonoma County judge agreed with the father. The judge said the law does not require one parent to pay for childcare under these circumstances. But in a decision published on June 14, 2019, the California First District Court of Appeal disagreed. The appeals court said the law does not restrict “employment skills” to current employment only. The law simply says a judge must consider a parent’s “reasonably necessary” educational needs when awarding child support. What is “reasonable” will depend on the circumstances, the First District noted. But there are no “qualifying limitations,” such as a requirement the training relate to current employment.

The trial judge was therefore wrong to simply dismiss the mother’s request without considering the merits. Indeed, “this case exemplifies why the Legislature enacted” the additional support rule in the first place, the appeals court said.

San Francisco family law attorney Terry A. Szucsko noted the First District’s decision reflected important public policy considerations. “California–and the Bay Area in particular–has a high cost-of-living,” Mr. Szucsko noted. “Paying for childcare is not a small expense, especially when you are trying to complete your professional education. Cases like this illustrate why judges need to look at this bigger picture when deciding child support disputes.”