Michigan Court Of Appeals Holds Child Support Law Allows Post-Majority Support Order

On May 19, 2015, the Michigan Court of Appeals held in a child support case that Michigan's child support law allows a court to enter a support order regarding a child who is less than 19 and 1/2 years old who is still enrolled in high school and taking sufficient credits to graduate without the agreement of the parties to the child support case.

In Lee v Smith, Docket No. 320123, the Michigan Court of Appeals addressed the issue of whether the trial court erred in entering a support order regarding the parties' child who had reached the age of majority without the express agreement of the parties.

The Court first briefly recited the facts of the case.

The parties’ child was 18 years old when plaintiff filed this action for child support. He was enrolled as a full-time student at an accredited high school, and was taking sufficient credits to graduate. Defendant argues that the trial court was not authorized to enter an order of child support after the child was 18 years old without an agreement by the parties. He argues that the trial court erred in finding that MCL 552.605b(2), which is part of the Support and Parenting Time Enforcement Act (SPTEA), MCL 552.601 et seq., authorized the award of child support.

The Court's analysis of whether the trial court erred in entering such a support order without an agreement between the parties followed.

As originally added to the SPTEA in 2001, MCL 552.605b was consistent with former MCL 552.16a with respect to both a court’s authority to order post-majority child support and the enforceability of a judgment or order based on an agreement by the parents to provide post- majority child support. MCL 552.605b provides, in pertinent part:

(1) A court that orders child support may order support for a child after the child reaches 18 years of age as provided in this section.

(2) The court may order child support for the time a child is regularly attending high school on a full-time basis with a reasonable expectation of completing sufficient credits to graduate from high school while residing on a full-time basis with the recipient of support or at an institution, but in no case after the child reaches 19 years and 6 months of age. A complaint or motion requesting support as provided in this section may be filed at any time before the child reaches 19 years and 6 months of age.

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(5) A provision contained in a judgment or an order entered under this act before, on, or after September 30, 2001 that provides for the support of a child after the child reaches 18 years of age is valid and enforceable if 1 or more of the following apply:

(a) The provision is contained in the judgment or order by agreement of the parties as stated in the judgment or order.

(b) The provision is contained in the judgment or order by agreement of the parties as evidenced by the approval of the substance of the judgment or order by the parties or their attorneys.

(c) The provision is contained in the judgment or order by written agreement signed by the parties.

(d) The provision is contained in the judgment or order by oral agreement of the parties as stated on the record by the parties or their attorneys.

Defendant argues that Subsection (5) applies to, or otherwise precludes a court from imposing, a child support determination under Subsection (2) unless the parties have an agreement for post-majority child support. We reject this reading of the statute. Subsection (2) constitutes a continuation of the Legislature’s initial response to our Supreme Court’s decision in Smith, 433 Mich at 632-633, which held that a court has no jurisdiction to order post-majority child support absent an agreement by the parties, by establishing a court’s limited authority to order such support. Subsection (5) does not affect the authority granted in Subsection (2), but rather independently sets forth requirements for enforcing agreements for post-majority child support in a judgment or order, regardless of whether the agreement concerns a child who satisfies the requirements for support in Subsection (2).

Viewing Subsection (5) as a limitation on Subsection (2) would prohibit courts from ordering any support for a child beyond the age of 18 absent the agreement of the parties. Such a reading would render Subsection (2) nugatory. Moreover, Subsections (2) and (5) have distinct and independent purposes. Subsection (2) permits courts, with certain conditions, to order support until a child reaches 19 years and 6 months of age, while Subsection (5) allows for orders extending beyond 19 years and 6 months, covering, for example, agreements to provide for college expenses. Examining MCL 552.605b as a whole, we conclude that defendant’s proposed interpretation would contravene the Legislature’s clearly expressed intent to authorize courts to order support for a child between 18 and 19-1/2 years of age who is still attending high school as provided in Subsection (2). Because Subsection (5) is not applicable to the circumstances of this case, and defendant has not challenged the trial court’s determination that the requirements for post-majority child support in Subsection (2) were satisfied, we affirm the trial court’s support order.