Are Non-Modifiable § 516 Non-Marital Child Support Agreements Unconstitutional?

April 8, 2009

father-son-holding-handsAs an office that has a very strong Matrimonial and Family practice, it is with great interest that we read Noeleen Walder’s recent article in the New York Law Journal (“NYLJ,” subscription required). She reported that the current non-modifiable status of § 516 child support agreements for non-marital children, may soon be changing.

Child Support agreements between the parents of children who were born in the context of marriage may be modified without court approval. But child support agreements made between parents of a child born out of wedlock may only be modified by court order, and not by mutual agreement, pursuant to § 516 of  NY’s Family Court Act.

According to the NYLJ, the Appellate Division, First Department, in the unanimous decision in Barbara N. v. James H.N., 4399, invalidated a § 516  non-marital child support agreement.  While not directly ruling on the constitutional question, the panel held that “to the extent that the statute precludes attempts to reverse support agreements for non-marital children, its constitutionality is questionable.”

What is the constitutional question? Child Support compromises are valid without court order for marital children but not for non-marital children. This poses an Equal Protection problem under the 14th Amendment. The panel suggested that  § 516  does not offer equal protection under the law by treating marital children differently from non-marital children.

Based on this and other objections, some state legislators have proposed repealing § 516, and therefore A02578/S2975 is currently before the state Assembly and the Senate Codes Committee.

Picture courtesy of Gov Gab.

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2 Responses to “Are Non-Modifiable § 516 Non-Marital Child Support Agreements Unconstitutional?”

  1. Von Says:

    What I would like to know is what on earth they were thinking of when they made this law? Why would anyone prohibit a couple from altering their own agreement by mutual consent? Let alone make the difference mentioned here.


  2. My impression is that the couple aren’t the only parties involved here. The issue is child support, so they were probably concerned that the couple might enter into some kind of child support arrangement that benefited themselves for some reason but not the child. So they wanted any modification to be by court order. They were also concerned that children should be supported by their non-custodial parent, as opposed to welfare & medicaid.

    But the truth is that those concerns are equally present with regard to child support agreements of children born in wedlock, which is the source of the whole “equal protection” problem.


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