People ex rel. E.Q.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Colorado
Citation472 P.3d 1115
Docket NumberCourt of Appeals No. 20CA0089
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Appellee, IN the INTEREST OF E.Q. and J.Q., Children, and Concerning R.Q., Appellant, and J.Q., Appellee.
Decision Date30 July 2020

472 P.3d 1115

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Appellee,

IN the INTEREST OF E.Q. and J.Q., Children, and Concerning R.Q., Appellant,
J.Q., Appellee.

Court of Appeals No. 20CA0089

Colorado Court of Appeals, Division IV.

Announced July 30, 2020

Scranton Specht Associates P.C., Darla Scranton Specht, Lamar, Colorado, for Appellee

Kim R. Verhoeff, Guardian Ad Litem

Debra W. Dodd, Office of Respondent Parents’ Counsel, Berthoud, Colorado, for Appellant

Roy Wallis, Office of Respondent Parents’ Counsel, Mesa, Arizona, for Appellee


¶ 1 In this dependency and neglect proceeding, R.Q. (father) appeals the juvenile court's judgment ordering child support in conjunction with granting a stipulation to allocate parental responsibilities for the children to J.Q. (mother). Although father agrees that he has a duty to support the children, he challenges the provisions in the order requiring him to release his social security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits to mother and designate her as the payee for his benefits.

¶ 2 To resolve father's appeal, we must answer two questions that have not yet been answered by Colorado's appellate courts. First, what standard or criteria should the juvenile court apply when ordering child support in a dependency and neglect proceeding under section 19-1-104(6), C.R.S. 2019? We hold that a court must follow the provisions for determining child support set forth in section 19-6-106, C.R.S. 2019, which, in turn, requires compliance with the child support guidelines in section 14-10-115, C.R.S. 2019. Because the court's order failed to address the factors set forth in the child support guidelines, we reverse the child support judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

¶ 3 Second, may a juvenile court order one parent to designate the other parent as the representative payee of his or her SSDI benefits as part of a child support order? We hold that it may not because federal law does not permit a juvenile court to determine the designated payee of a parent's SSDI benefits. Therefore, we reverse the court's child support judgment on this basis as well.1

I. Factual Background

¶ 4 In April 2019, the Prowers County Department of Human Services (Department) filed a dependency and neglect petition concerning sixteen-year-old E.Q. and thirteen-year-old J.Q. The petition alleged that father had sexually abused E.Q. and had admitted to some of the abuse when mother confronted him. The juvenile court placed the children in mother's custody under the protective supervision of the Department. The following month, father was arrested and charged criminally. He remained incarcerated throughout the remainder of the case.

¶ 5 The juvenile court adjudicated the children dependent and neglected based on the parties’ stipulation. It adopted a treatment plan for father. In October 2019, mother

472 P.3d 1118

initiated a separate proceeding to dissolve her marriage to father.

¶ 6 Two months later, the parties reached a stipulation concerning parental responsibilities for the children. As pertinent here, the stipulation provided that (1) mother would be the children's custodian and have sole decision-making responsibilities; and (2) child support would be determined by the domestic relations court. Mother also filed a motion asking the juvenile court to order father to release his prior three months of SSDI benefits to her. Father filed a written objection to this motion.

¶ 7 After hearing further argument and offers of proof from the parties, the juvenile court issued an order adopting the parties’ stipulation and addressing mother's motion. Finding that it had jurisdiction to consider child support in a dependency and neglect proceeding under section 19-1-104(6), the court ordered father to turn over his previous three months of SSDI benefits to mother and to restore mother as the payee of his benefits until further order of the court. It then certified the order into the parties’ domestic relations proceeding.

II. Jurisdiction and Terms of the Stipulation

¶ 8 Father contends that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to issue the child support order addressing his SSDI benefits because it had already ended the case when it approved the parties’ stipulation. He reasons that, by accepting the parties’ stipulation to defer child support to the domestic court, the court was precluded from entering any child support orders. We reject father's jurisdictional argument but conclude that the court must reconsider the conflicting provisions regarding child support in the order.

A. Standard of Review and Law

¶ 9 Whether a juvenile court has subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law that we review de novo. In re Petition of E.R.S. , 2019 COA 40, ¶ 23, 452 P.3d 174.

¶ 10 Subject matter jurisdiction concerns a court's authority to decide a particular matter. Id. at ¶ 24 ; see also In re Support of E.K. , 2013 COA 99, ¶ 8, 410 P.3d 480. Dependency and neglect proceedings are governed by the Children's Code. L.A.G. v. People in Interest of A.A.G. , 912 P.2d 1385, 1389 (Colo. 1996). The Children's Code grants a juvenile court exclusive jurisdiction over any child who is dependent and neglected. § 19-1-104(1)(b). It also expressly authorizes a juvenile court to enter an order allocating parental responsibilities and addressing parenting time and child support matters when it maintains jurisdiction in a case involving a child who is dependent and neglected and no child custody action or action for the allocation of parental responsibilities concerning the same child is pending in a district court in this state. § 19-1-104(6).

¶ 11 In this case, the juvenile court had continuing jurisdiction over the children based on their status as dependent and neglected children. Although mother initiated a separate domestic relations proceeding, no party asserted that a custody or parental responsibilities action was pending in that case. Consequently, the domestic relations proceeding did not affect the juvenile court's jurisdiction to determine child support.

¶ 12 Father asserts that the juvenile court was divested of jurisdiction to issue the order because it had already granted the stipulation and certified the matter to the domestic relations court. However, the record shows that the court considered both requests — mother's motion to release father's SSDI benefits and the parties’ request for the court to approve their stipulation — at the same time. It granted both requests as part of the same written order and later certified that order to the domestic relations court. Thus, the juvenile court was not divested of jurisdiction to issue an order concerning the children's support.

B. Terms of the Stipulation

¶ 13 We next consider father's contention that the juvenile court was precluded from considering mother's request to release his SSDI benefits by the terms of the parties’ stipulation. We reject father's contention that the terms of the stipulation restricted the court's authority to consider mother's request.

472 P.3d 1119

As previously discussed, the court considered both requests simultaneously. Moreover, parties may not preclude or limit the court's authority concerning child support. In re Marriage of Miller , 790 P.2d 890, 892-93 (Colo. App. 1990).

¶ 14 Nevertheless, we agree that the order contains conflicting provisions that cannot be reconciled. The court addressed the children's support by ordering father to release his SSDI benefits while at the same time adopting the parties’ stipulation that child support would be addressed through the domestic relations case. Because we are unable to reconcile these provisions, we reverse the judgment and remand the case for the court to reconsider whether child support will be determined in the dependency and neglect case or...

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