Starr v. Starr

Decision Date01 February 1996
Docket NumberNo. 69255,69255
PartiesSTARR, Appellee, v. STARR, Appellee; Cuyahoga County Support Enforcement Agency, Appellant.
CourtOhio Court of Appeals

Hyatt Legal Services and Blaine L. Gottehrer, North Olmsted, for appellee.

Jeffrey Hastings, Westlake, for appellant.

Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney, and Arline M. Zehe, Assistant County Prosecuting Attorney, Cleveland, for intervenor-appellant, Cuyahoga County Support Enforcement Agency.


Appellees Michael Starr and Susan Starr were divorced in January 1992. They had three minor children. Prior to the divorce, the parties agreed that the husband would pay $102 per month in temporary support through a wage order. On March 3, 1992, the parties signed a separation agreement, which the court incorporated into the divorce decree. The agreement provided that the father would pay mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities, and other payments directly to vendors in the amount of $581 per month (the amount mandated by the current support guidelines). The parties recognized that the husband had made similar in-kind payments in lieu of child support in the past and wished to continue this arrangement. At the time of the divorce, the mother collected $708 per month in Aid to Dependent Children ("ADC") payments and food stamps.

The Cuyahoga Child Support Enforcement Agency ("CSEA") subsequently sought to intervene as a party and vacate the child support provisions of the divorce decree. CSEA argued that its standing to intervene as a party arose under R.C. 5107.07, since the wife had been receiving ADC. CSEA maintained that the parties could not voluntarily deviate from the child support statute and agree to an arrangement that did not require support payments to be made through the agency. Additionally, CSEA argued that the parties agreed to deviate from the support guidelines and impose a lesser obligation on the father.

The domestic relations court granted CSEA's motion to intervene, but denied the motion to vacate the divorce decree. In its first assignment of error, CSEA argues that the domestic relations court order incorporating the parties' separation agreement on child support is void ab initio because CSEA had not been named a party at the time the action had been filed, nor had the parties taken any steps to notify CSEA of the proceedings. CSEA maintains that it had the right to intervene and be heard on child support issues at the time of the divorce action since the mother's receipt of ADC payments and food stamps constituted an assignment of rights to CSEA. CSEA claims that it could protect its rights only by appearing in the action. Since it had no opportunity to do so, it maintains that the support order should be vacated.

In this case, CSEA proceeded as if a default judgment of divorce had been granted against it because it failed to receive notice sufficient to allow it to intervene. This position necessarily assumes that CSEA is a proper party to the divorce action. As an agency of the Department of Human Services, CSEA can collect from an obligor spouse state funds paid for a child's welfare. See R.C. 5107.04; In re Harris (May 12, 1994), Cuyahoga App. No. 65913, unreported, 1994 WL 189143. Pursuant to R.C. 5107.07(A)(2), the mother's acceptance of ADC would constitute an assignment of her rights to CSEA and CSEA would be a proper party to any child support action. Cramer v. Petrie (1994), 70 Ohio St.3d 131, 637 N.E.2d 882; Cuyahoga Cty. Support Enforcement Agency v. Lozada (1995), 102 Ohio App.3d 442, 657 N.E.2d 372.

Although the mother's assignment of rights would make CSEA a proper party to a support action, it does not make CSEA a proper party to a divorce action. CSEA cites Civ.R. 75(B) as authority for the proposition that it be joined as a party to the divorce proceedings. However, Civ.R. 75 states that ordinary rules relating to permissive and mandatory joinder of parties do not apply in divorce actions. Existing exceptions relate to a person or corporation claiming an interest in property out of which an award of spousal or other support might be made. See Civ.R. 75(B)(1).

CSEA makes no claim to an interest in "property" out of which an award of support might be made in a sense contemplated by the rule. Civ.R. 75(B)(1) properly applies to pecuniary or equitable interests in a debtor/creditor situation. CSEA does not claim such an interest. It does claim an interest in enforcing payment of all support obligations, but that interest does not arise out of any claim to obligor spouse's wages.

Nor for that matter is CSEA a real party in interest to the divorce action. A "real party in interest" is "one who has a real interest in the subject matter of the litigation, and not merely an interest in the action itself, i.e., one who is directly benefitted or injured by the outcome of the case." (Emphasis sic.) Shealy v. Campbell (1985), 20 Ohio St.3d 23, 24, 20 OBR 210, 211, 485 N.E.2d 701, 702. CSEA makes no claim that it had a substantive right to relief in the divorce action or that it was entitled to damages. Young v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. (1993), 88 Ohio App.3d 12, 623 N.E.2d 94. While the state "has a direct financial interest in the enforcement of child support orders," Cramer v. Petrie, supra, 70 Ohio St.3d at 134, 637 N.E.2d at 885, it has no right to participate in the creation of such orders. We are aware of no authority that would permit CSEA to be a party to the divorce decree, cf. DeLong v. Stark Cty. Dept. of Human...

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8 cases
  • Sweeney v. Sweeney
    • United States
    • Ohio Court of Appeals
    • March 31, 2016 nothing in the record indicating to whom precisely notice of the hearing was sent.5 Sweeney also cites Starr v. Starr, 109 Ohio App.3d 116, 671 N.E.2d 1097 (8th Dist.1996), for the proposition that a “child support enforcement agency was not a proper party to a divorce action in which th......
  • S/o, ex rel. Cuyahoga Child Support Enforcement Agency and Charlene Armstrong v. Donald Sanders
    • United States
    • Ohio Court of Appeals
    • April 2, 1998
    ... ... State of Ohio, CSEA & Seals v. Seals (May 9, 1996), ... Cuyahoga App. No. 69249, unreported; Starr v. Starr ... (1996), 109 Ohio App.3d 116, 119; State ex rel. Lamier v ... Lamier (1995), 105 Ohio App.3d 797, 802. The state's ... ...
  • In re Lepore
    • United States
    • Ohio Court of Appeals
    • July 22, 2015
    ...See Bowley v. Bowley, 12th Dist. Warren No. CA97-12-126, 1998 Ohio App. LEXIS 2280, *3-4 (May 26, 1998); Starr v. Starr, 109 Ohio App.3d 116, 121, 671 N.E.2d 1097 (8th Dist.1996). {¶15} There is no question that the trial court's order in the decree of legal separation and the decree of sha......
  • Burton v. Harris
    • United States
    • Ohio Court of Appeals
    • March 21, 2013
    ...immediately after deciding Lozada, the Eighth District Court of Appeals reached a contrary conclusion in Starr v. Starr, 109 Ohio App.3d 116, 671 N.E.2d 1097 (8th Dist.1996). There, the court held that the child support enforcement agency was not a proper party to a divorce action in which ......
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