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Court must approve change in child support amount

By Lynne Tuohy
Associated Press / December 22, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H.—Parents can't change a child support order without approval by the court, the New Hampshire Supreme Court says, in what is proving a costly lesson for an unemployed father.

The divorced parents of a now-4-year-old girl agreed in writing two years ago to amend child support payments after the father, Anthony Laura, lost his job with a Francestown pool company.

The private agreement between the parents reduced the amount of money Laura owed from $57 a week to $50 a month.

But the agreement is invalid because the family court did not approve it and Laura is now liable for about $5,000 in back payments for the court-ordered support.

The state Division of Child Support Services sent Anthony Laura the bill this summer after his ex-wife, Ericka Scott, applied for food stamps and other state assistance.

The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the private agreement has no bearing on the court-ordered back support Laura owes.

The justices ruled that the state's child support guidelines are in place to help guarantee adequate support for children and require that parents meet their support responsibilities based on their income and ability to pay.

"While Laura argues that his change of financial situation was sufficient to warrant the modification of the child support agreement, the statute explicitly requires judicial approval of any agreement that departs from the child support guidelines," Justice James Duggan wrote, for the unanimous court.

Attorney James Laura represented his son in the appeal. He said he disagrees strongly with the court's ruling.

"It's allowing the state to come in and open up cases that are closed and interject themselves into those matters," James Laura said of the state's demand for back support.