Georgia Supreme Court Interprets Child Support Agreement to Include Online Courses

The Supreme Court of Georgia took discretionary review of a trial court's February 2010 decision terminating a father's child support obligation. In Draughn v. Draughn (2011), when the child was an 18-year-old, the father filed a petition for declaratory judgment seeking an order ending his support obligation. Simultaneously, the mother filed a petition for a finding of contempt for the father's failure to pay support. At the core of this case was the Georgia Supreme Court's interpretation of the terms of the parents' agreement as to child support. Terms of Agreement for Child Support. As part of an earlier child support modification (2008), the parents agreed that Clifford Draughn, the child's father, would pay monthly child support to the mother, Angel, until their son "reaches the age of 18." The agreement didn't end there. The couple further agreed that if the child is 18 "while enrolled in and attending secondary school on a full time basis," then father would continue providing support until their son either graduated from high school or turned 20, whichever occurred first. The child turned 18 on April 21, 2009. Support was terminated by an order issued on February 22, 2010. The mother appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court which exercised its discretion to accept the case for direct review. The Georgia Supreme Court was very interested in the "online" facts of this case. The couple's agreement did not define what was meant by "enrolled in and attending secondary school." The issue became a matter of interpretation: Is enrollment in an online high school program within the meaning of secondary school enrollment and attendance requirement in the couples' support agreement? If the answer is "Yes," then the father had a continuing duty to pay support after the child's 18th birthday. If the answer is "No," the father's obligation terminated when onsite enrollment ended, even though the child had not yet graduated. Virtual High School. In February of 2009, before his 18th birthday, the child left the private secondary school that he was attending and enrolled in an online high school degree course program. His private high school agreed to this and also agreed that when he completed the online program, he would graduate from the private high school. Well, that didn't happen. The young man didn't do his online coursework and didn't graduate from the private secondary school as planned. In its analysis of the facts, the trial court determined that an online high school course program was not what the parties intended in their support agreement. According to the court, attending secondary school did not include "virtual attendance" – in other words, attendance had to be onsite at the school facility. The trial court held that the young man "abandoned his status as a full-time student enrolled in and attending secondary school" when he left his private high school and enrolled in the online program. Leaving the high school was sufficient reason to terminate the father's support obligation. Enrollment Online is Sufficient. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed the trial court's holding. The issue was whether enrollment in an online course is the same, for support purposes, as onsite attendance at a high school. In Georgia, it is the same. In this case, the determination by the trial court that the child was neither enrolled in nor attending secondary education on his 18th birthday was sufficient to terminate support. The state's high court, however, decided that the father's obligation did not terminate when the child turned 18 because of his enrollment in an online program. Legislative History of the Georgia Virtual School. The Georgia Assembly passed legislation in 2005 establishing the Georgia Virtual School "whereby students [21 or younger] may enroll in state funded courses via the Internet or in any other manner not involving onsite interaction with a teacher." The Board of Education then tailored the program for implementation throughout the state. It was this online education program that the son was enrolled in. Because of the state's "endorsement and regulation of online learning opportunities" the Supreme Court concluded that online attendance is "attending school" for purposes of this couple's support agreement and continuing support beyond this child's age of majority was appropriate. Every state has support guidelines for establishing child support, and there are various methods for recovering the support that is owed. If you are ending a marriage, are already divorced, or are trying to hold the other parent legally responsible, it is important that you consult with an attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Scott David Stewart to meet with an experienced family law attorney who will review your child support matter and help you find the best solution to meet your child's needs. Resource: Draughn v. Draughn, Ga. Sup. Ct. (decided March 7, 2011)

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One Response to Georgia Supreme Court Interprets Child Support Agreement to Include Online Courses

  1. Sandip says:

    Hey, I thought kings and qeunes were gotten rid of on 3/22/2010.I guess it is acceptable to have a Metis who is a state senator and the chairman of Turtle Mountain tribe. I don’t approve of a chairman who is a retired BIA official and wears a fake headdress with rabbit skins from it and say’s we don’t have a position for a chief in our tribe. What a joke! I question if some of our tribal leaders are acually U.S. citizens. (many have come from Canada illegally) Also, do any of them actually have the blood quantum to actually be an Indian. And no , the chieftainship status isn’t directed towards me .and if it was, my fellow relatives would have to approve that. I would accept otherwise because I have taken on roles to be one. It would be interesting if I requested an enrollment audit (and it will take years) I know the referendum would be turned down at election time. If that became the case, then I would have to address congress to do it.

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