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In appropriate cases the earning capacity of a parent who elects to stay home with a young child need not be considered when calculating support. This nurturing parent doctrine excuses the parent from contributing support. The nurturing parent doctrine recognizes that a custodial parent who stays at home and cares for a child does, in fact, support the child. In determining whether to expect a nurturing parent to seek employment, the trial court must balance factors such as the age and maturity of the child, the availability and adequacy of others who might assist the custodial parent, and the adequacy of available financial resources if the parent does remain at home.
The parties married in January 1989 and had four children before wife filed for divorce on October 25, 2001. On April 20, 2002, the parties entered into a marriage settlement agreement which was incorporated with, but did not merge into, the May 15, 2002, Divorce Decree. Under the agreement, the husband was to buy the wife a farm. If she sold it before the mortgage was paid, which she did, he was to pay her a monthly amount equivalent to the mortgage, taxes, and insurance, for the original mortgage term. He also was to pay "undivided family support" which would gradually increase. Though the wife waived the right to seek additional child support, she later did so. The trial court held that she could not waive the children's right to support; further, under the agreement, her purported waiver terminated when the mortgage was paid off. The husband's payments in amounts equivalent to the mortgage after the sale of the farm were part of the property settlement and were not child support. Child support was thus recalculated based on the guidelines. A clause in the agreement requiring the wife to pay the husband's attorney's fees if she challenged the agreement violated public policy and was unconscionable.
Was it proper that the earning capacity of a parent who elects to stay home with a young child was not considered when calculating support?
The appellate court agreed with these rulings. In calculating child support, the wife's income was properly set at $ 0 per month, as it was appropriate to allow her to stay at home with the youngest child until the child was in school full-time.