By: Kenya N. Rahmaan
The articles concerning President Donald Trump and the prenuptial agreement signed by his ex-wife, Marla Maples, in 1993 can be quite misleading for different reasons. The prenup stated that he was, and would continue to, pay child support in the amount of $100,000 to his minor daughter at the time, Tiffany Trump, until she turned 21, unless certain situations occurred prior to her 21st birthday. While the age of majority is 21 in New York, the age of majority can vary based on certain criteria, the most common occurring when an adult child has special needs. The Trump prenup stated that the payments would end if and among other stipulations, their daughter landed a full-time job. This, again, is not uncommon when considering that most children secure and maintain full-time employment after they reach the age of majority.
Based on an article by FindLaw, legal guidelines in all states allow child support to end when the child reaches the age of majority. There are issues with the claim that Trump, specifically, included the termination of child support as an incentive for his daughter to avoid joining the military. While that may have been his reasoning behind the clause, the child support order would have been terminated, in almost every state, based on her entering into military service. The truth is that nearly every child support case can be terminated based on the minor becoming free of parental control, otherwise known as, emancipated. According to the New York State Unified Court System’s website, a child under 21 is emancipated if:
- The child is married.
- The child is in the military.
- The child finished 4 years of college.
- The child is 18 years old and working full-time (summer or vacation jobs don’t count).
- The child permanently leaves home and ended the relationship with both parents for no good reason (except if the child left home because of abuse by a parent or a similar reason).
Whatever Trump’s intentions, and those have yet to be proven, the choice to terminate child support would have been made by a judge, not based on the prenup. To be clear, there are circumstances in which the emancipation clause does not apply in reference to participation in military service.
If a minor enrolls in a military academy, the government does not consider that to be full-time enlistment into military service and a judge will, in most likelihood, dismiss an motion to terminate the child support order. Secondly, if there is a special case such as Argonaut Insurance Exchange v. Kates, 137 Cal. App. 2d 158, 289 P.2d 801 (1955), the child support order can remain active even after the child has joined the military. In this case, the judge ruled that even though the son was in the military, he was still entitled to certain benefits provided by his father, specifically, his case death benefits. According to Lisa Wish Morgan, the son was entitled to the father’s death benefits when the father was killed in an industrial accident. This means barring extenuating circumstances, Trump’s daughter would have been emancipated regardless of the prenuptial entry.
Additionally, there are a few subjects that are best left unmentioned when drafting a prenup or risk the document becoming invalid. One of those subjects happens to be child support. One reason is that the judge may declare the prenup invalid based on the mention of child support. David Centeno, a New York Divorce Lawyer, wrote in the Huffington Post (2014) that a prenuptial agreement cannot have any provisions relating to the children of the marriage, such as custody and child support. Even if Trump wrote provision concerning the military and the threat of terminating the child support order, it may not have been a choice left up to him to decide.
Not only are prenuptial agreements that mention child support or custody considered the opposite of good public policy, they are not executable based on one key factor. Courts today generally follow the belief that separations involving children should be negotiated based on the individual family members, (LawDepot.com). Since a couple may or may not have children prior to the marriage, there may have extremely different incomes from the time they were married to the time they file for divorce, and the needs of the children can not be predetermined. It is nearly impossible to predict child support payments, visitation, etc. at the time of a divorce. Not only can a judge decide to hear the child support case separately, he or she may decide to invalidate the whole agreement if such provisions are present, (Centeno, 2014).
In this day and age of social media, there is so much information being communicated it is often difficult to determine what is real and what is fake news. There is no one gatekeeper charged with verifying information or letting the public know what pieces of the information, although true, may have been taken completely out of context. This is especially true when dealing with high profile individuals and articles concerning child support issues. It is important that we verify what is accurate, especially as we are fighting so diligently for reform to this less than constitutional child support system. Dangerous precedent is set when people report on issues that are so contentious in our society, without divulging all of the factors concerning that particular situation. But, ultimately, it is up to you to verify what you are reading and seeing, before choosing a position in the argument. Keep fighting!
Centeno, D. (2014, January 23). 10 Prenup mistakes that will cost you. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/10-common-prenup-pitfalls_b_4214860
FindLaw. (n.d.). When does child support end?. Retrieved January 5, 2020, from https://family.findlaw.com/child-support/when-does-child-support-end-.html
LawDepot. (2018, April 27). 5 Things you can’t include in your prenup. Retrieved from https://www.lawdepot.com/blog/5-things-you-cant-include-in-your-prenup/
Morgan, L. W. (2002, May 19). Article: What constitutes emancipation to release a parent from a child support obligation. Retrieved from http://www.childsupportguidelines.com/articles/art200008.html
New York State Unified Court System. (2017, April 3). Emancipated child. Retrieved January 5, 2020, from https://www.nycourts.gov/CourtHelp/Family/emancipatedChild.shtml