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Marriage of VanderVoort v. VanderVoort

May 23, 2008

IN THE MATTER OF THE MARRIAGE OF RHONDA D. VANDERVOORT, APPELLANT,
v.
DIRK VANDERVOORT, JR., APPELLEE.



Appeal from Johnson District Court; ALLEN R. SLATER, judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. The interpretation and legal effect of written instruments are matters of law, and an appellate court exercises unlimited review. Regardless of the construction given a written contract by the trial court, an appellate court may construe a written contract and determine its legal effect.

2. While Kansas law allows parties to agree upon terms for maintenance and limits the jurisdiction of courts to modify such terms, provisions in settlement agreements regarding child support shall be subject to the control of the court.

3. Child support is a right belonging to the child and cannot be reduced or terminated by agreement between parents. Even when courts make deviations from the recommended amounts in the Kansas Child Support Guidelines, courts must show that such deviations serve the best interests of the children.

4. A child reaching 18 years of age is one of the three events in Kansas which automatically terminates child support. The other two are death of the child or the death of the payor parent.

5. If a district court does not consider the fact that a child attained the age of majority in its calculation of child support arrearage, the support order is in error.

6. The Child Support Guidelines are the basis for establishing and reviewing child support orders in Kansas, including cases settled by agreement of the parties. Judges and hearing officers must follow the Guidelines.

7. Under the facts of this case where the district court interpreted a separation agreement in such a way that one of the parents is now required to pay child support, we hold the court must use the Guidelines to compute the obligation.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hill, J

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with directions.

Before HILL, P.J., GREEN and STANDRIDGE, JJ.

This appeal raises a question about the district court's interpretation of a separation agreement. At their divorce, Rhonda and Dirk VanderVoort agreed that her child support payments to Dirk would equal Dirk's maintenance payments to Rhonda, so no money would change hands. But when it comes to child support, Kansas courts are not bound by private agreements. Child support cannot be lowered or ended by agreement of only the parents. The ending of Dirk's maintenance debt because of Rhonda's remarriage does not erase her duty to pay child support. Because child support belongs to the children, we hold the district court's interpretation of the separation agreement is correct and Rhonda must pay. We differ with the court's calculation of the arrearage, though. Our Supreme Court has ruled that a child support order automatically ends when a child arrives at the age of 18. Because two of their four children were 18 before Rhonda married again, we hold the court must recalculate the arrearage.

Contract clauses show "offsetting" terms for maintenance and child support.

Rhonda and Dirk were married in 1982, and divorced on May 2, 2001. The parties have four children: Jeremy, born December 23, 1982; Gerrit, born February 24, 1986; Austin, born August 7, 1990; and Kendyl, born January 14, 1995. At the time of the divorce, Jeremy was 18 and enrolled in high school. The separation ...


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