Two Wyoming Supreme Court justices held in an opinion published Friday that the state’s child support law is incompatible with federal law and therefore invalid.
The holding — penned by Justice Kate Fox and joined by Chief Justice Michael Davis, the two most senior members of the court — came as a partial dissent from a court majority opinion and will have no immediate impact on Wyoming law.
The court majority issued its opinion in response to an appeal out of Laramie County, in which an unidentified father, who represented himself in the case, asked the state’s highest court to reverse a judge’s order that he pay the state’s mandatory minimum of $50 in child support and that it waive the $85 he was required to pay in order to appeal.
All five justices agreed that the appeal fee he paid to the district court was appropriate.
The state’s highest court ruled that the fee — assessed for transcripts submitted to the court — was applicable even though the district court did not submit transcripts of testimony. The court ruled that the term transcripts refers to a record of proceedings, rather than simply testimony.
Fox and Davis diverge from the court’s majority opinion at that point. Justices Kari Gray, Lynne Boomgaarden and Keith Kautz state that the man’s request is unclear in that it “does not distinguish between an income withholding order and an order establishing his child support.” The three justices state that he doesn’t argue that the order to dock his income is improper, and if he were appealing the child support order, should have done so under a different section of law.
“Father fails to present any cogent argument or statutory analysis to support his claim that Wyoming’s statutory approach to setting child support includes an irrebuttable presumption,” Gray wrote. “Without cogent statutory analysis, we should not create the arguments we think Father might make.”
Fox, in her partial dissent, acknowledges the record submitted to the Supreme Court is sparse and does not contain the district court judge’s original order. She goes on to say that the issue raised is clear, however: the unidentified man alleges the minimum obligation required by Wyoming law violates federal law.
“There is no doubt that Father challenges the constitutionality of the statutory minimum child support obligation imposed upon him,” Fox wrote. “Any reluctance to address Father’s imperfectly presented argument should be overcome by the leniency we afford pro se parties.”
The state participates in a federally funded child support program that requires states to follow certain child support guidelines as a requirement of the funding. Those guidelines require that states give parents the opportunity to rebut the amount of child support that’s presumed to be required. Because Wyoming law requires a minimum of $50 paid monthly on child support judgements, Fox finds that the state law conflicts with federal law and is therefore invalid under the constitutional requirement that federal laws supersede those of states.
Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson
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