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WILLIE LEE HULL v. STATE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE

NOVEMBER 25, 1987

WILLIE LEE HULL
v.
STATE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE



BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, C.J.; ROBERTSON AND GRIFFIN, JJ.

ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

Willie Lee Hull appeals an order of the Chancery Court of Winston County that he reimburse the Mississippi Department of Public Welfare (DPW) for sums paid by that agency for the benefit of Hull's minor children. The Chancery Court went further and ordered that $125 be withheld from Hull's wages each month to be paid over to DPW. We hold that the Chancery Court correctly applied the law to the facts of this case. We affirm.

This case has its genesis in a judgment of the Chancery Court entered January 19, 1982, that Hull support his two children, Betty Hull, born August 26, 1968, and Linda Hull, born May 4, 1970. That judgment granted custody of the children to Betty M. Hull, their mother. The judgment further directed that Hull pay to the Winston County DPW for the support of said minor children the sum of $25 per week beginning February 1, 1982, and continuing "until each and every child shall either become age 21 years, marry, or be emancipated." Hull has made one $25 payment.

 On June 24, 1986, DPW filed in the Chancery Court its petition for entry of an order for withholding, alleging that Hull was substantially in arrears in his obligations under the January, 1982, judgment. After plenary trial on the merits, the Chancery Court adjudged that Hull was in arrears in the sum of $5,575 and ordered that he pay said sum to DPW. The Court further adjudged that DPW was entitled to a withholding order and such order was entered providing that $125 per month be withheld from Hull's wages until the full sum of $5,575 be

 paid.

 Hull appeals and asks that the withholding order be vacated.

 This case is controlled by our statutory law. We begin with Miss. Code Ann. 43-19-35 (Supp. 1987) *fn1 which provides that, by accepting public assistance, a parent, such as Betty Hull, is deemed to have assigned to DPW any right she may have to child support from the other parent. Betty had a right to support of and from Willie. By virtue of its having provided Betty with public assistance for the benefit of the two children, DPW has become subrogated to Betty's rights against Willie, or so Section 43-19-35 declares. DPW is thus empowered to sue a non-supporting parent such as Willie. See Minor v. State Department of Public Welfare, 486 So.2d 1253, 1254 (Miss. 1986).

 In Ivy v. State Department of Public Welfare, 449 So.2d 779 (Miss. 1984), this Court traced the ancestry of Section 43-19-35 to the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1576.

 This ancient law represents the progenitor of modern paternity suits where the purpose was not solely for the protection of the child, but rather the indemnification of the parish for the expense of the child's support.

 449 So.2d at 781. The statute is based upon the premise that the taxpayers should be relieved of some or all of the burden of supporting the indigent child. Minor v. State Department of Public Welfare, 486 So.2d at 1255; McCollum v. State Department of Public Welfare, 447 So.2d 650 (Miss. 1984).

 We have repeatedly recognized the authority of the Department of Public Welfare to sue to enforce support of indigent children. *fn2 Minor v. State Department of Public Welfare, 486 So.2d 1253 (Miss. 1986): Ivy v. State Department of Public Welfare, 449 So.2d 779 (Miss. 1984); McCollum v. State Department of Public Welfare, 447 So.2d 650 (Miss. 1984); and Metts v. State Department of Public Welfare, 430 So.2d 401, 405 (Miss. 1983). We reaffirm that authority.

 Hull's obligations under the January 1982 judgment became fixed week by week as the $25 payments became due and were not paid. Under our law child support payments, once ordered, become fixed and vested when due and unpaid. Brand v. Brand, 482 So.2d 236, 237 (Miss. 1986); Hailey v. Holden, 457 So.2d 947, 951 (Miss. 1984): Cunliffe v. Swartzfager, 437 So.2d 43

 (Miss. 1983); Duncan v. Duncan, 417 So.2d 908 (Miss. 1982). The evidence establishes without contradiction that Hull made only one $25 payment between February 1, 1982, and January of 1986. The Chancery Court found as a fact that the two children became emancipated in January of 1986. The Court held that Hull's child support obligation under the January 1982 judgment terminated at that point. Giving credit ...


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