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Parents who pay child support aren’t automatically off the hook when their minor teen-age children marry, the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled. In child-support cases, judges are increasingly rejecting bright-line rules and instead exploring underlying facts, said Laura W. Morgan, chair of the child-support committee of the American Bar Association’s Family Law Section. Typically under common law, marrying, entering the military, reaching 18 or 19, or graduating from high school “emancipates” children from their parents, ending the parents’ responsibility to pay support, said Morgan, executive editor of Divorce Litigation, a specialty publication. But the trend is turning away from common law, said Monroe L. Inker, a partner at Boston’s White, Inker & Aronson, a family law firm. Morgan agreed: “Bright lines don’t fit every situation,” such as the Kansas case. In that case, David Scott Schoby argued that, as a matter of law, his divorce agreement allowed him to stop supporting his eldest child, Michael, when the boy, then 16, married. A judge rejected that argument after hearing that the boy’s mother, Donna J. Schoby, had paid utilities and bought food for the married couple and ultimately allowed the boy to move home when he separated from his wife. The high court affirmed, saying that a minor’s marriage does not automatically allow a parent to stop paying child support. Instead, the parent “should return to court and have the trial court determine the issues on the record.” In the Matter of the Marriage of Donna J. Schoby and David Scott Schoby, No. 82074 (Kansas Supreme Court, April 21, 2000). The decision has a broader impact than cases involving only underage marriage, said family law practitioner Ronald W. Nelson, a partner at Overland Park, Kan.’s Rose & Nelson. It keeps in doubt what constitutes emancipation in determining child support, he said. Family law practitioners will have to return to court to file motions, he added. Attorneys for the parents did not return calls for comment.

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