Missouri Courts Bulletin: Family Case Law Update

From The Missouri Bar
John W. Dennis, Jr., Esquire

Paternity: Change of surname/meeting burden of proof. Warren Joshua Wright, Respondent v. Anden Richard Buttercase by his next friend, Heather Ladawn Buttercase, and Heather Ladawn Buttercase, Appellants, No. 67861 (Mo. App. W.D., January 15, 2008), Lowenstein, J.
This child was born out of wedlock and given his mother's surname. In this action to establish paternity, custody and support, the trial court also ordered the child's surname changed to that of father. Mother appealed.
Held: Affirmed. It is axiomatic that the party seeking to change the child's surname has the burden of proving that the change is in the child's best interest. Neither parent's name is presumed preferable to the other.
The factors: (a) the child's age – here the child is too young to know the difference; (b) potential embarrassment or discomfort of the child in a change – here, the child is too young to know and is not in school, so no change will result in confusion, embarrassment or discomfort; and, (c) how the name change will affect the child's relationship with his parents. Father here testified that he was trying to build a relationship with the child. In addition, “every” child in the community had his father's surname and a change would help the child identify with the father's family. The trial court concluded that, given those circumstances, the child would be more likely to feel accepted by father if they shared a last name. Moreover, the child was so young that the change of surname would not affect his relationship with his mother.
The foregoing was found to be substantial evidence to support the trial court's decision.
Editor's Note: Although this case may be fact specific in relation to the outcome, it is instructive, in that there are outside factors to look for beyond a parent's motivation for seeking a name change for his/her child.

Child Support and College grades: Adequacy of notice. James Waddington, Petitioner/Appellant/Cross-Respondent v. Maureen (Waddington) Cox, Respondent/Cross-Appellant, No. 88992 (Mo. App. E.D., January 2, 2008), Shaw, J.
The parties were divorced in 1996. The parties' son was placed in the “primary” care of father, and mother was ordered to pay child support of $378 per month. In October, 2000, son went off to college. He provided mother with the university's letter of conditional acceptance. Throughout his college career, the child provided mother with notice of his grades via an on-line access service the university provided to its students. Mother did not pay child support. Eventually, father sought enforcement of the child support judgment. Mother claimed the notice of son's grades was inadequate because the on-line printout was not an official transcript. The trial court agreed. Father appealed.
Held: Reversed. This is a case of first impression in Missouri. Section 452.340.5 RSMo requires the child to provide each parent with a “transcript or similar official document” from the institution showing grades, courses and credits earned. There is no question that the records provided to mother were not official transcripts.
“Given the varying definitions and the ubiquity and security of online student records systems similar to [the one provided here], this Court declines to speculate whether the legislature assumed that a 'transcript' is inherently official or considered the possible implications of such an assumption in a case like the one before us. We can only observe that the legislature did not include the word 'official' before transcript. As such, 'official' only modifies the word 'document.' To interpret the statute to require an official transcript would be to add qualifying language where it does not exist.”
“Missouri courts liberally construe section 452.340.5 to be consistent with the public policy of promoting the pursuit of higher education. Mandel v. Eagleton, 90 S.W.3d 527,531 (Mo. App. E.D. 2002) (internal citations omitted). “Therefore, we conclude that a parent's obligation to provide financial support to a child in college should not terminate merely for lack of an official stamp, where, as here, substantial evidence demonstrates that the parent received actual notice in the form of an inalterable online transcript containing all the information required by the statute.”

Categories: Child Support, Paternity