When it comes to emancipation of children for purposes of child support, does joining the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in college equate to joining the Armed Forces? The Massachusetts Appeals Court addressed this issue in a recent decision.
In Bobblis v. Costa, the parties divorced in 2000. The mother retained custody of the children, and the father agreed to pay child support. The separation agreement between them provided the father would pay child support until the child reached the age of emancipation. In this case, it would be 23 if the child was enrolled in a college or post-secondary program. The agreement further provided that the father would cease paying child support if the child entered the Armed Forces.
In August of 2012, one of the parties’ children enrolled in a college program. He later also joined the ROTC on campus, having been offered a scholarship beginning in his junior year. The child signed two documents: a cadet contract, which governed his conduct as an ROTC member during college, and an enlistment document, which governed his enlistment after college. After graduation, in 2016, he joined the Army as an officer.
Subsequently, the father claimed that the child joining ROTC was equivalent to the child joining the Armed Forces, which served as an event of emancipation. The father filed for retroactive modification. He sought to end his child-support payments as of the child’s junior year of college, when the child first enrolled. The probate and family court judge rejected the father’s argument, and the father appealed.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court looked closely at the two documents signed by the child. It ultimately found that they did not serve as an event of emancipation. The Court held that the documents did not indicate the child entered the Armed Forces as a junior. Rather, he entered after he graduated.
“The contractual provisions of the enlistment document and cadet contract, as well as the statutory authority governing the ROTC program, demonstrate a clear distinction between participation in an ROTC program and military service under the ROTC program’s terms,” the Court noted. “As the trial judge noted, “[an] ROTC cadet is simply a scholarship student who receives some special training and has an obligation to perform military service or repay the funds received after participation in the program.” Importantly, the cadet contract and 10 U.S.C. §§ 2101 et seq. contemplate the possibility that a cadet may never enter active duty, for a number of reasons, and in such circumstances require the cadet to repay the Army for the scholarship.”
The Court also looked to other federal statutory and decisional law in contrasting ROTC and military service. As some examples, the Court explained federal law specifically distinguishes between ROTC and armed services in providing life insurance and death benefits. The Court affirmed the decision to deny a retroactive modification of child support payments.
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