The appeals judges threw out a lower court ruling in favor of the husband, Robert Tarbox, that he could direct that the Social Security dependency benefits be paid directly to the 18-year-old son of Tarbox and his divorced wife Linda rather than to Linda Tarbox in order to fulfill his responsibility to provide child support.
The opinion, written by AppealsJudge Anne Dranginis, said the couple was divorced in February 1995 with a court order that included their agreement that Robert Tarbox would pay Linda Tarbox $126.50 per week to support their two children. The father agreed to pay child support until the younger child graduated high school or turned 18 – whichever took place later.
In February 2001, after Robert Tarbox became disabled, the younger child got a lump sum payment of $7,328 from Social Security and then $685 monthly until his June 22, 2001 high school graduation.
Linda Tarbox went back to court in October 2001, complaining that the child support payments called for in the couple’s divorce agreement hadn’t been submitted to her.
In reaching the appeals court’s decision,Dranginis saidIf Robert Tarbox wanted to have the Social Security dependency benefits, he could have asked the lower court judge to modify the original divorce order to take into account Robert Tarbox’s changed economic circumstances (because of the disability). Dranginis said such a move would have been supported by the ruling in a previous 1998 divorce case.
The Connecticut judges endorsed a 1993 Michigan divorce decision, which found that dependency benefits may be considered when fixing the amount of child support and may also be a legitimate basis for going back into a divorce order and changing child support payments after the fact. The Connecticut judges also recommended the procedure called for in the Michigan case.
In circumstances such as the case involving Robert and Linda Tarbox, the parent applying for federal Social Security benefits because of a disability could also go back into court to ask the judge to change the support payment requirement. At that point, according to the recommended procedure, the trial judge could put off a ruling until the federal government determines the amount of dependency payments.
The appeals judges sent the case back to the lower court to determine how much Robert Tarbox owes his ex-wife.
The ruling is Tarbox v. Tarbox, Conn. App. Ct., No. 23723, 8/10/04.