Stephenson v. Papineau, No. 109,121.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Kansas
Writing for the CourtMALONE
Citation308 P.3d 1270,49 Kan.App. 457
Decision Date13 September 2013
Docket NumberNo. 109,121.
PartiesIn the Matter of the Marriage of Jeri D. STEPHENSON, Appellee, and Gregory J. PAPINEAU, Appellant.

49 Kan.App. 457
308 P.3d 1270

In the Matter of the Marriage of Jeri D. STEPHENSON, Appellee,
and
Gregory J. PAPINEAU, Appellant.

No. 109,121.

Court of Appeals of Kansas.

Sept. 13, 2013.




Syllabus by the Court

1. As a general rule in Kansas, when a minor child receives Social Security disability benefits as part of an obligor parent's Social Security disability award, any amount in excess of the child support owed by the obligor parent is considered a gratuity that inures solely to the benefit of the child.

2. Under the facts of this case, an obligor parent is not entitled to reimbursement for timely child support payments made during months for which the minor children ultimately receive a retroactive lump-sum payment of the obligor parent's Social Security disability benefits.


John W. Fresh, of Larry R. Mears, Chartered, of Atchison, for appellant.

J. David Farris, of J. David Farris Law Offices, of Atchison, for appellee.


Before MALONE, C.J., ATCHESON, J. and LARSON, S.J.

MALONE, C.J.

Gregory J. Papineau appeals the district court's order denying his motion to modify child support. Papineau contends that he is entitled to reimbursement from Jeri D. Stephenson, his former wife, for child support payments he made to her on behalf of their minor children during months for which Stephenson, as representative payee for the minor children, ultimately received a retroactive lump-sum payment of Papineau's Social Security disability benefits. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the district court's order.

The facts are undisputed but also somewhat sketchy. Papineau and Stephenson were married in 1997. They had two children during the marriage, born in 2002 and

[308 P.3d 1271]

2004. When they divorced in 2006, Stephenson was granted primary residential custody of the minor children. Both parties were employed full time, and child support responsibilities were allocated based on their earnings for full-time employment as well as the cost of health insurance, daycare, and related expenses. Papineau was ordered to pay child support to Stephenson in the amount of $782 per month.

In 2010, Papineau became permanently and totally disabled and unable to work. At the time he became disabled, he began receiving disability payments from a long-term disability insurance policy issued by Standard Insurance Company (Standard). The record does not reflect the amount of benefits paid by Standard. Papineau made no attempt to modify his child support obligation when he became disabled and unable to work in 2010. Instead, from 2010 until August 2012, Papineau continued to pay child support to Stephenson in the amount of $782 per month.

Papineau also filed for Social Security disability benefits, although the record does not reflect when Papineau initially filed his claim. Effective March 21, 2012, Papineau was awarded Social Security disability benefits. As part of Papineau's benefits, the minor children were awarded monthly benefits of $802 and a retroactive lump-sum payment of approximately $5,600. The record does not reflect how these benefits were calculated. Stephenson was designated by the Social Security Administration as the representative payee for the minor children and receives the payments on the children's behalf. According to the briefs and counsels' statements at oral argument, Stephenson has set aside the lump-sum payment to start a college fund for the children.

On August 22, 2012, Papineau filed a motion to modify child support, asking in part for reimbursement of the child support payments he made to Stephenson during the months for which Stephenson, on behalf of the minor children, ultimately received the retroactive lump-sum payment of Papineau's Social Security disability benefits. The parties submitted the motion to the district court on stipulated facts. The parties agreed in district court that the Social Security payments of $802 per month for the benefit of the minor children satisfied Papineau's current child support obligation. The only issue for the district court to decide was whether Papineau was entitled to reimbursement of the child support payments he made to Stephenson during months for which Stephenson ultimately received the retroactive lump-sum payment.

According to the stipulated facts, Standard claims subrogation rights to all Social Security disability benefits received by Papineau and his minor children, including the retroactive lump-sum payment awarded for the benefit of the minor children. But Standard is not a party to this case, and the status of its subrogation claim is not clear from the record on appeal.

The district court denied Papineau's motion to modify child support. Relying on In re Marriage of Hohmann, 47 Kan.App.2d 117, 274 P.3d 27 (2012), rev. denied 297 Kan. –––– (May 20, 2013), the district court found that Papineau was not entitled to reimbursement of any child support payment in excess of the amount owed because the excess benefit is a gift that inures to the benefit of the children. The district court further found that any subrogation claim by Standard was irrelevant because the insurance company would have no right of subrogation against benefits that belong to the minor children, who are not parties to the insurance contract. Papineau timely appealed the district court's order.

On appeal, Papineau again contends that the district court erred in finding that he was not entitled to reimbursement of child support payments that he made during months for which his minor children ultimately received a retroactive lump-sum payment of his Social Security disability benefits. He acknowledges that as a general rule in Kansas, when a minor child receives Social Security disability benefits as part of an obligor

[308 P.3d 1272]

parent's Social Security disability award, any amount in excess of the child support owed by the obligor parent is considered a gratuity that inures solely to the benefit of the child. See Hohmann, 47 Kan.App.2d at 118–21, 274 P.3d 27 (citing Andler v. Andler, 217 Kan. 538, 542–44, 538 P.2d 649 [1975];In re Marriage of Williams, 21 Kan.App.2d 453, 454–56, 900 P.2d 860 [1995] ). Papineau concedes that to the extent that the $802 per month that his minor children receive from his Social Security disability benefits exceeds the $782 per month he owes in child support, the excess inures solely to the benefit of the children.

But Papineau argues that his children did not merely receive excess benefits but in fact received double benefits for certain months, i.e., once when he paid child support on time and in full, and again when the children received a retroactive lump-sum payment of his Social Security disability benefits covering months for which he already had paid child support. He points out that if his children had received his Social Security disability benefits contemporaneously rather than retroactively for those months, his child support obligation for those months would have been fulfilled. Papineau claims that his children have no legal or equitable right to a double payment and that as a policy matter, refusing to reimburse an obligor parent for child support payments made while a Social Security disability claim is pending creates a disincentive for the obligor parent to remain current on his or her child support payments.

Finally, Papineau argues that this court should equitably consider the fact that Standard is seeking subrogation of his Social Security disability benefits paid for the benefit of his minor children. He contends that if Standard is successful in its subrogation claim, he effectively will be required to pay his child support obligation three times for the relevant months, i.e., first as a regular child support payment, second as a Social Security disability benefit, and third in repayment to Standard.

The sole issue on appeal is whether an obligor parent is entitled to reimbursement of child support payments made during months for which the minor children ultimately receive a retroactive lump-sum payment of the obligor parent's Social Security disability benefits. This is a question of law, over which an appellate court has unlimited review. See Hohmann, 47 Kan.App.2d at 119, 274 P.3d 27.

Kansas courts have never squarely decided the issue presented in this case. But several cases are instructive, beginning with the Kansas Supreme Court's decision in Andler. In that case, the father began making child support payments to his former wife on behalf of their minor children in January 1970. That same month, the former wife began receiving the father's Social Security disability benefits on behalf of the minor children. The father made four child support payments (January to April 1970) before he discontinued the payments because he had no money with which to make them. In August 1973, the former wife brought a motion for contempt against the father for failure to pay child support. The district court terminated the father's obligation to make future child support payments because his future obligation was satisfied by the monthly Social Security disability benefits, but the district court found that the father had a judgment against him for the previously accrued unpaid child support.

On appeal, our Supreme Court reversed the district court's determination that the father had a judgment against him for the previously accrued unpaid child support. Our Supreme Court held that where a father who has been ordered to make child support payments becomes totally and permanently disabled and unconditional Social Security payments for the benefit of the minor children are paid to the divorced mother, the father is entitled to credit for such payments by the government against his liability for child support under a divorce decree to the extent of, but not exceeding, his monthly obligation for child support. 217 Kan. at 544, 538 P.2d 649. In reaching this decision, our Supreme Court rejected the district court's reasoning that the...

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2 practice notes
  • Stephenson v. Papineau, No. 109,121
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • October 9, 2015
    ...remedy permitted under applicable federal statutes and regulations.Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in 49 Kan. App. 2d 457, 308 P.3d 1270 (2013). Appeal from Atchison District Court; ROBERT J. BEDNAR, judge. Opinion filed October 9, 2015.Page 2Judgment of the Court of Appeals ......
  • In re Stephenson, 109,121.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • October 9, 2015
    ...disabled obligor was not entitled to a credit, a reimbursement, or an offset. in rE marriage oF stephenson & papineau, 49 kaN.app.2d 457, 308 P.3d 1270 (2013).On review of the Court of Appeals decision, we reverse, holding that a district court may—but does not necessarily have to—grant a c......
2 cases
  • Stephenson v. Papineau, No. 109,121
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • October 9, 2015
    ...remedy permitted under applicable federal statutes and regulations.Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in 49 Kan. App. 2d 457, 308 P.3d 1270 (2013). Appeal from Atchison District Court; ROBERT J. BEDNAR, judge. Opinion filed October 9, 2015.Page 2Judgment of the Court of Appeals ......
  • In re Stephenson, 109,121.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • October 9, 2015
    ...disabled obligor was not entitled to a credit, a reimbursement, or an offset. in rE marriage oF stephenson & papineau, 49 kaN.app.2d 457, 308 P.3d 1270 (2013).On review of the Court of Appeals decision, we reverse, holding that a district court may—but does not necessarily have to—grant a c......

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