2005/09/15 - III. ÚS 606/04: Support Payment

15 September 2005

HEADNOTES

 

Inconsistency

with good morals, as grounds for not requiring support under § 96 par. 2

of the Act on the Family, is tied to the conduct of the person who

seeks the support payments and not with the conduct of other persons,

whether obligated persons, i.e. those who are subject to a claim for

fulfilling an obligation of support, or third persons.

In proceedings on constitutional complaints the first group of cases

where the Constitutional Court intervenes in the decision making of the

general courts consists of cases in which it evaluates whether the

simple law norm applied in a matter, pursuing a certain constitutionally

protected aim, has, in terms of the principle of proportionality,

justifiably acquired priority over another simple law norm that pursues a

different constitutionally protected aim. (e.g., file no. III. ÚS

256/01 and others).

Another group

consists of cases which do not involve competition between the

application of several simple law norms, but address the question of

which one of several alternative interpretation of a particular simple

law norm is to be accepted (e.g., . file no. II. ÚS 22/94, III. ÚS

114/1994 and others).

Finally, the third

group of cases in proceedings on constitutional complaints consists of

cases where a general court has arbitrarily applied a simple law norm,

without meaningful justification or a connection with any

constitutionally protected aim. In the existing case law in

constitutional complaint matters (see judgment file no. III. ÚS 351/04),

the Constitutional Court interpreted the concept of arbitrariness in

the sense of extreme inconsistency between legal conclusions and the

factual and legal determinations made, and also in the sense of failure

to respect a mandatory norm, an interpretation which is in extreme

conflict with the principles of justice (one example of which is

excessive formalism), as well as interpretation and application of

statutory terms using a meaning other than that stated in the statute

and accepted by consensus in legal thinking, and, finally, in the sense

of decision making without more detailed criteria or at least principles

derived from a legal norm.



CZECH REPUBLIC

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

JUDGMENT


IN THE NAME OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC

 


A

Panel of the Constitutional Court, composed of its Chairman Jiří Mucha,

judges Pavel Holländer and Jan Musil decided on 15 September 2005 in

the matter of a constitutional complaint from the minor L. D., born 17

May 2000, filed by his legal representative, D. D., represented by Mgr.

R. D., attorney, against a decision by the Municipal Court in Prague of

24 June 2004 ref. no. 29 Co 494/2003-197, as follows:


The decision of the Municipal Court in Prague of 24 June 2004 ref. no. 29 Co 494/2003-197 is annulled.

 

 


REASONING
 

The

minor’s mother, as his legal representative, in a timely filed

constitutional complaint, sought the annulment of the abovementioned

decision, in which the Municipal Court in Prague changed the decision of

the City District Court for Prague 4 of 18 September 2003 ref. no. P

340/2003-132 to the effect that the court set the support payment, which

the obligated father was previously obligated to pay for the minor

child, in the amount of CZK 1,000, and, as of 1 December 2000 in the

amount of CZK 2,200 per month, newly at an amount of CZK 1,500 per month

as of 1 August 2001; it also changed the verdict on the support payment

owed and the manner of payment, and did not award either party

compensation of expenses for court proceedings at either level. The

minor’s mother referred to the minor’s state of health, which affects

the amount of expenses to cover his needs, to her own earnings and the

father’s earning level, and stated her belief that the court set the

support payment at a disproportionate level, inconsistent with the

evidence admitted, with reference to § 96 par. 2 of the Act on the

Family, i.e. with the provision that setting a higher level of support

payment would be inconsistent with good morals. Therefore, as the

child’s mother and legal representative, she believes that the

abovementioned decision violates her rights, enshrined in Art. 3 par. 1,

Art. 36 par. 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (the

“Charter”), in Art. 6 par. 1 of the Convention for the Protection of

Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the “Convention”), in Art. 2 par.

1, in Art. 6 par. 2, Art. 18 par. 1, Art. 23 par. 1, 2 and in Art. 27

par. 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as in Art.

90 of the Constitution of the Czech Republic.
 

The

Panel Chairman of the Municipal Court in Prague, in his statement of 6

December 2004 regarding the content of the constitutional complaint,

referred to the decision’s reasoning and expressed the belief that the

petitioner’s constitutional rights had not been violated.
 

The

minor’s father did not provide a response to the constitutional

complaint in response to the notice from the Constitutional Court, which

he received on 15 November 2004; he also did not meet the conditions

for being a secondary party, as he did not give a power of attorney to

an attorney to represent him, under § 30 par. 1 of Act no. 182/1993

Coll., as amended by later regulations.
 

It

was determined from the file of the City District Court for Prague 4,

file no. P 340/2003, that at the petition of the minor’s mother, she was

granted custody of L. D., and the father was required to make support

payments for the minor, in the amount of CZK 1,000 per month with effect

from 1 July 2000 until 30 November 2000, and then in the amount of CZK

2,200 per month as of 1 December 2000, to be paid to the mother; the

debt for support payments for the period from 1 July 2000 through 31

October 2002 was established in the amount of CZK 55,600, with the

provision that the father was required to pay the debt in payments of

CZK 2,000 per month. When the father appealed, the verdict concerning an

increased support payment exceeding the amount of CZK 1,000 per month

as of 1 December 2000, as well as on the amount of support payments owed

was annulled, and confirmed in another section (p. 108). After

supplementing the evidence on support payments, the City District Court

for Prague gave a ruling in which it set the payments at the amount of

CZK 2,200 per month as of 1 December 2000, calculated the support

payments owed in the amount of CZK 73,800, and determined that they were

to be paid in payments of CZK 2,000 per month. After a further appeal

by the father, the Municipal Court in Prague changed the decision of the

first-level court as is stated in the constitutional complaint – it

changed the amount of the support payments exceeding the amount of CZK

1,000 per month, and beginning on 1 August 2001 set them to be CZK 1,500

per month, it changed the verdict on the amount of support payments

owed, and ruled on compensation of expenses of the proceedings; based on

the evidence admitted it stated that the minor’s needs had increased,

but with reference to § 96 par. 2 of the Act on the Family it concluded

that this increase was related to an injury to the child, responsibility

for which lay not with the father, but with a third person, whom the

mother entrusted with caring for the child, and that therefore a

decision that the father should thus bear the increased expenses for the

child’s needs would be inconsistent with good morals (pp. 197-198 of

the file of the City District Court for Prague 4, file no. P 340/2003).
 

The

Constitutional Court reviewed the contested decision in terms of the

claimed violation of constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms and

found the constitutional complaint to be justified.
 

The

essence of this constitutional complaint is the petitioner’s argument

against the appeals court’s conclusion concerning the father’s

obligation to share in the minor’s increased needs, which are affected

by his poor health resulting from an injury caused by a third party into

whose care the mother entrusted the child. The Act on the Family, in §

85, imposes a support obligation on parents for children who are not

capable of supporting themselves, in a scope corresponding to their

abilities, possibilities, and their financial situation, after taking

into account the extent to which each parent takes care of the child.
 

Under

§ 96 par. 2 of the Act on the Family, a support payment can not be

required if this would be inconsistent with good morals, and it is

undisputed that this provision and related findings of fact which speak

in favor of applying it must be connected with the entitled party, i.e.

with the behavior or conduct of the person who seeks support payments

from the obligated party. The settled case law of the general courts

also corresponds to the thus-formulated essence and significance of § 96

par. 2 of the Act on the Family. Thus, the Supreme Court stated, in its

resolution of 14 April 2004, file no. 6 Tdo 326/2004, that “a

relationship of conflict between parents, which one of the parents

perceives to be a violation of his parental rights, can not be ascribed

to the detriment of minor children and used to dispute their right to

support payments by claiming inconsistency with good morals under § 96

par. 2 of the Act on the Family.” The Regional Court in České Budějovice

reached a similar conclusion in the matter file no. 5 Co 2661/1999: “If

one parent is prevented from contact with minor children on a long-term

basis, and subsequently feels this to be a violation of his parental

rights, this consequence can not be ascribed to minor children, and

requiring support from that parent is not inconsistent with good

morals.” In other words, inconsistency with good morals, as grounds for

not requiring support under § 96 par. 2 of the Act on the Family, is

tied to the conduct of the person who seeks the support payments and not

with the conduct of other persons, whether obligated persons, i.e.

those who are subject to a claim for fulfilling an obligation of

support, or third persons.
 

In

the proceedings conducted at the District Court for Prague 4 under file

no. P 340/2003, a claim for support of a child, born 17 May 2000, was

made against the father, who does not live with the mother and child,

where the minor had suffered an injury due to which he has serious

health disabilities. The injury was caused by J. K., a man with whom the

mother shares her household. At the time when the needs of the minor,

and funds used to cover these needs were assessed, i.e. at the time when

the support payments were determined, this man had not been convicted

with legal effect of the crime of injury to health, nor had the

obligation to compensate the minor for damage caused been imposed on him

(in a decision of the Municipal court in Prague of 22 April 2002, file

no. 45 T 9/2001, J. K. was acquitted of the charge of the crime of

attempted murder under § 8 par. 1 k § 219 par. 1, par. 2 let. e) of the

Criminal Code, which he was alleged to have committed against the minor

L. D., the petitioner in the proceedings before the Constitutional

Court).
 

Based on the

foregoing, the Constitutional Court concluded that, in terms of the

simple law applicable to the present matter, the decision of the

Municipal Court in Prague contested by the constitutional complaint

violated § 96 par. 2 of the Act on the Family.
 

From

a constitutional law standpoint it is necessary to set the conditions

under which incorrect application of simple law by the general courts

leads to violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms.
 

In

proceedings on constitutional complaints the first group of cases where

the Constitutional Court intervenes in the decision making of the

general courts consists of cases in which it evaluates whether the

simple law norm applied in a matter, pursuing a certain constitutionally

protected aim, has, in terms of the principle of proportionality,

justifiably acquired priority over another simple law norm that pursues a

different constitutionally protected aim. (e.g., file no. III. ÚS

256/01 and others).
 

Another

group consists of cases which do not involve competition between the

application of several simple law norms, but address the question of

which one of several alternative interpretation of a particular simple

law norm is to be accepted (e.g., . file no. II. ÚS 22/94, III. ÚS

114/1994 and others).
 

Finally,

the third group of cases in proceedings on constitutional complaints

consists of cases where a general court has arbitrarily applied a simple

law norm, without meaningful justification or a connection with any

constitutionally protected aim. In the existing case law in

constitutional complaint matters (see judgment file no. III. ÚS 351/04),

the Constitutional Court interpreted the concept of arbitrariness in

the sense of extreme inconsistency between legal conclusions and the

factual and legal determinations made, and also in the sense of failure

to respect a mandatory norm, an interpretation which is in extreme

conflict with the principles of justice (one example of which is

excessive formalism), as well as interpretation and application of

statutory terms using a meaning other than that stated in the statute

and accepted by consensus in legal thinking, and, finally, in the sense

of decision making without more detailed criteria or at least principles

derived from a legal norm.
 

Thus,

in proceedings on constitutional complaints, we can distinguish cases

of conflict between simple law norms, conflict between alternative

interpretation, and finally cases of arbitrary application of simple

law.
 

In the present matter,

the Constitutional Court concluded that the interpretation of § 96 par.

2 of the Act on the Family, contained in the decision of the Municipal

Court in Prague of 24 June 2004 ref. no. 29 Co 494/2003-197, is

extremely inconsistent with usual methods of interpretation, with legal

concepts defined by standard legal dogmatics, and with the stable case

law of the general courts, for which reason the decision in question can

not be described otherwise than as arbitrary application of simple law,

and thereby violation of the fundamental right to a fair trial under

Art. 36 par. 1, Art. 32 par. 1 in connection with Art. 41 par. 1 and

Art. 4 par. 4 of the Charter, as well as Art. 18 par. 1, Art. 23 par. 1

and Art. 27 par. 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
 

For

the foregoing reasons, i.e. in view of the violation of Art. 36 par. 1

of the Charter, as well as Art. 18 par. 1, Art. 23 par. 1 and Art. 27

par. 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Constitutional

Court annulled the decision of the Municipal Court in Prague of 24 June

2004 ref. no. 29 Co 494/2003-197 [§ 82 par. 1, par. 3 let. a) of Act no.

182/1993 Coll., as amended by later regulations].

Notice: Decisions of the Constitutional Court can not be appealed.

 

Brno, 15 September 2005