Child Support (C.S.S.A.)

Two people fighting over money / business transaction / giving & taking money / shopping / divorce / power struggle / etc.

A decision last week of the Appellate Division, Second Department, points out that the rules concerning the recovery of overpayments of child support may not always be logical, and in the end may not best benefit the children the support was intended to benefit.

The parties in McGovern v. McGovern had executed a stipulation in 2007 that was incorporated but not merged into their judgment of divorce. The stipulation required the father to pay the mother child support each month for the parties’ two children. That obligation was to continue until, as is here relevant, one of the children began attending a residential college, at which point the child support obligation would be reduced. The stipulation also required the father to pay 60% of the children’s educational expenses, but allowed him to deduct any room and board payments which he made from his child support obligation.

In February 2014, the father filed a petition with the Westchester County Family Court seeking a downward modification of his child support obligation on the ground that the older child had started college in September 2011. The father also alleged that from September 2011 to February 2014, he overpaid child support because the Support Collection Unit failed to reduce his child support payments after the oldest child started college. As a result, the father requested an overpayment credit towards his child support obligation.

In June 2014, Support Magistrate Esther R. Furman temporarily suspended the father’s child support obligation pending further order of the Family Court. Ultimately, the Support Magistrate granted the father’s petition by downwardly modifying his child support obligation. Magistrate Furman also applied his prior child support overpayments retroactively to the period in which his support payments were suspended pursuant to court order. Family Court, Westchester County, Judge Nilda Morales Horowitz denied the mother’s objections to the Support Magistrate’s order. The mother appealed.

The Second Department noted:

There is strong public policy in this state against restitution or recoupment of the overpayment of child support. The reason for this policy is that . . . child support payments are deemed to have been devoted to that purpose, and no funds exist from which one may recoup moneys so expended if the award is thereafter reversed or modified.

The appellate court held that on this record, there was no basis for concluding that any exception to the strong public policy against restitution or recoupment of support overpayments existed. Consequently, it was error for the Magistrate and Judge to hold that the father was entitled to a credit against his child support obligation based on prior overpayments of child support.

However, the Second Department held:

While child support overpayments may not be recovered by reducing future support payments, public policy does not forbid offsetting add-on expenses against an overpayment.

Thus, although the overpayments could not be applied to the father’s child support obligation, he was allowed to use the overpayments to offset his share of add-on expenses, such as the educational expenses.

Comment: It is not explained why the father waited 2½ years to seek to lower his child support.

First rule: don’t wait; and nothing less than a court order modifying the support obligation will do. Oral, and even written understandings will not be enough. Recoupment of overpayments of child support are rarely granted.

The public policy is not free from debate. The mother knew she was receiving more money than provided in her agreement. She was able to enjoy a lifestyle to which she was not entitled under the agreement. It was the parents’ agreement. Adjustments should be between the parents, even if those adjustments are delayed until the children are emancipated.

On the other hand, who is hurt by reducing the father’s obligation to pay for college expenses? There is no corresponding order obligating the mother to pick up the father’s share of reduced college expenses. The shortfall may have to be covered by the child through student loans not contemplated by the parties’ agreement.

Benefiting the mother at the expense of the child would not seem to be consistent with public policy.

Arnold S. Kronick, Esq., of White Plains, NY, represented the mother. Donna E. Abrams, Esq., of Harold, Salant, Strassfield & Spielberg, of White Plains, represented the father.

stamp "Evidence"It is understandable that parents who “cannot afford” a lawyer will attempt to represent themselves in Family Court child support proceedings. Moreover, the Family Court is remarkably able to apply the law and make its determinations of issues presented by unrepresented parties. However, the fact that a party does not have a lawyer does not excuse following the rules nor presenting the proof needed by the Court to make those determinations.

Take the recent child support decision in Matter of Carol A.S. v. Mark H. There, the mother commenced a proceeding against a father in Kings County Family Court in order to establish his paternity of a college-attending daughter (under 21) and to provide support for the child. (A DNA test established was administered that established the father’s paternity.)

The decision of Judge Xavier E. Vargas went to pains to discuss the history of the case, noting the various adjournments that were granted in order to allow both parents the opportunity to gather the documentation the court needed for each party to establish his or her positions. The mother wanted the father to reimburse her for the college expenses paid for the daughter. The father claimed he regularly had been giving the daughter $600 per month by depositing that sum directly to the daughter’s account. He wanted credit for making those payments.

Continue Reading Representing Yourself In Child Support Proceedings Has Its Risks

A court gavel on 100 bills - legal concept

In its December 30, 2016 decision in Peddycoart v. MacKay, the Second Department reduced a father’s obligation to pay child support from $542 to $378 per week by holding that the Family Court should not have imposed the support obligation on the parents’ income in excess of the C.S.S.A. “statutory cap” (then $141,000).

The parties, who were never married, had one daughter together, born in 2009. The father signed an acknowledgment of paternity less than nine days after the child was born. The parties did not have an order of child support for approximately six years. In 2015, the mother filed a petition against the father seeking an award of child support. After a hearing, Support Magistrate Barbara Lynaugh determined that the mother had income of $36,112 and that the father had income of $166,096, for combined parental income of $202,208, exceeding the cap by $61,208.

Continue Reading Imposing Child Support on Income Over Cap Not Warranted

Frustrated Father trying to appease daughter

The parties, who were never married, have two children together, the younger of whom is now 17 years old. The parents have been litigating custody and visitation issues for almost the entire lives of their children.

In its December 28, 2016 decision in Matter of Sullivan v. Plotnick, the Appellate Division, Second Department, addressed a family’s relationships, concluding (?) more than a decade of litigation. By consent orders in 2004 and 2005, the mother had physical custody of the children. In 2007, the mother petitioned to modify the earlier-agreed visitation schedule. Without a hearing., the Family Court granted the father’s motion to dismiss the mother’s petition. On a prior appeal, the Second Department reversed that order and remitted the matter for a hearing. In 2010, the father filed a petition to modify the custody and visitation orders so as to award him sole custody of the children, alleging that the mother interfered with his parenting time.

In July 2010, while these proceedings were pending, the children’s paternal uncle contacted the children and revealed that the father had been previously married, and that they had two older siblings. The children were upset that the father had withheld this information and refused to visit or communicate with the father.

In an attempt to rehabilitate the relationship between the father and the children, in 2010 the Family Court directed therapeutic visitation. The father subsequently filed two motions alleging that the mother had violated that direction. He also filed petitions to vacate a 2007 support order, and sought sole physical and legal custody on the basis of the mother’s alienation. After a hearing, by order dated September 6, 2011, the Family Court found that the mother willfully violated the orders directing therapeutic visitation.

Continue Reading Children Refuse to See Father; Child Support Suspended

Under Family Court Act §413-a, a party receiving public assistance, or making use of the State’s Child Support Enforcement Services, may request that the Support Collection Unit (“SCU”) review the order for an adjustment of a child support order in the event that there is a 10% change in the cost of living. The SCU, calculates the new order and mails it to the parties. If there is no objection, the adjusted order becomes final without further review by a court.

Either party, however, may object to the cost-of-living adjustment by making an application to the court. Where an objection is timely filed, the cost of living adjustment does not take effect, and after a hearing, the court may issue a new order of support determined in accordance with the Child Support Standards Act, or make a determination that no adjustment is appropriate. Notably, “Any order of support made by the court under this section shall occur without the requirement for proof or showing of a change in circumstances.” F.C.A. §413-a(c)

In Tompkins Cty. Support Collection Unit ex rel. Chamberlin v. Chamberlin, 99 N.Y.2d 328, 756 N.Y.S.2d 115, 786 N.E.2d 14 (2003), the Court of Appeals determined that F.C.A. §413-a authorizes the Family Court to review and adjust the underlying support order in accordance with the C.S.S.A., and not merely to decide whether or not the COLA amount should be applied.

Continue Reading Reconciling SCU COLA Adjustments With Modification Cases

Calulator on 100s 6 redUntil the amendment of the Child Support Standards Act effective January 24, 2016 (D.R.L. §240[1-b][b][5][iii][I]; Laws of 2015, c. 387, §3), the rule had been that when a divorce court awards maintenance to a spouse, the amount of annual maintenance is to be deducted from the payor’s income when calculating parental income. However, for those same C.S.S.A. calculations, maintenance was not to be added to the recipient’s income. Thus, for example if in its award, a divorce court awarded a wife (the custodial parent) who had no other income $60,000 per year in maintenance from a husband earning $250,000 per year, the husband’s income for C.S.S.A. purposes would equal $250,000 less FICA, Medicare, and the $60,000 in maintenance, but the wife’s income would still be $0.

The recent amendment changed that anomaly. Effective January 24, 2016 , the alimony or maintenance actually paid or to be paid to a spouse is to be added to the income of the recipient when calculating parental income.

Although it does not expressly so state, it has been held that this amendment is to be applied to cases commenced on or after January 24, 2016, and not to cases commenced before that date. R.I. v. T.I., 2016 NY Slip Op 50664(U), 51 Misc. 3d 1215(A) (Sup. Ct. Kings 2016); C.G. v. F.G., 2016 NY Slip Op 26220, 53 Misc. 3d 229, 235-36, 34 N.Y.S.3d 882, 887-88 (Sup. Ct. Richmond 2016).

Until the amendment, the rule had been that it was error to include maintenance awards as income to the recipient when computing the child support obligation. Krukenkamp v. Krukenkamp, 54 A.D.3d 345 (2nd Dept. 2008); Wallach v. Wallach, 37 A.D.3d 707, (2nd Dept. 2007); Shapiro v. Shapiro, 35 A.D.3d 585 (2nd Dept. 2006); Lee v Lee, 18 A.D.3D 508 (2nd Dept. 2005).

In its November 9, 2016 decision in Castello v. Castello, the Second Department ruled differently. In that case, the court modified a 2013 divorce judgment by changing the child support calculation.

Continue Reading The Effect of Spousal Support on Child Support: Did the Second Department Jump the Gun?

In the absence of some other compelling factor, where a noncustodial parent’s child spends 33 to 40 percent of the time with that parent, a reduction in child support from the presumptively correct formula amount is not warranted. So held Ontario County Family Court Judge Stephen D. Aronson in his October 4, 2016 decision in T.M. v. J.K.

Here, the parties were the biological parents of one child born in 2001. The mother filed a petition seeking child support. Following a hearing, the support magistrate concluded that the father’s biweekly support obligation according to the Child Support Standards Act (CSSA) formula would be $396. However, the support magistrate also found that application of the CSSA formula would be inappropriate because the child spent at least 35 to 40 percent of the time with father. This, the support magistrate held, constituted an amount of time sufficient to justify deviating from the formula, awarding the mother $270 biweekly.

The mother filed objections to the support magistrate’s order, alleging that the significant discrepancy in the parties’ financial resources and the support magistrate’s misallocation of time spent with each parent warranted imposing the formula. Specifically, she contended that the father had more disposable income, fewer expenses, and more resources. She also asserted that she has more debt, including a credit card balance (consisting of charges needed to cover her expenses) and a large school loan. It was also noted that the father paid no child support (apparently by agreement) from 2006 through 2015. (The parties did not dispute the support magistrate’s formula calculation, although Judge Aronson found the amount to be incorrect.)

Continue Reading No Child Support Formula Reduction for Father Who Has Child 33-40% of Time

The Appellate Division, Second Department, has held in its June 15, 2016 decision in Schiero v. Perrotta, that a mother’s testimony was a sufficient foundation for the admission in evidence of her children’s medical bills and her proof of payment of those bills.

The mother had filed a violation petition alleging that the father had failed to pay his pro rata share of the children’s unreimbursed medical expenses. At the ensuing hearing, the mother testified that she had incurred $980 in medical expenses for the children. She attempted to offer into evidence copies of medical bills and proof of payment.

Support Magistrate Rachelle C. Kaufman, however, refused to admit the medical invoices into evidence on the ground that the medical invoices were hearsay, and were not admissible through the mother’s testimony. Magistrate Kaufman then held that the mother failed to demonstrate the amounts of each individual medical expense, or when they were incurred. The Magistrate dismissed that branch of her petition. The mother filed objections, which were denied by Rockland County Family Court Judge Sherri L. Eisenpress.

Continue Reading Mother’s Testimony Sufficient Foundation for Receipt in Evidence of Health Care Invoices and Payment Records

K-1-cropped-wideIn its May 11, 2016 decision in Eifert v. Eifert, the Appellate Division, Second Department, appears to discuss the interrelationship between the calculation of child support and the “income” shown on a partnership K-1 tax form. In truth, it does not.

In their divorce settlement agreement, the parties agreed that the father would pay child support consisting of two components. The first component required the father to pay $4,400 per month. As summarized by the Second Department in its opinion, the second component required the father to pay “25% of the income he derived from his ownership of stock in Eifert French & Co.”

Years later, the mother sought to recover child support arrears in the sum of $63,283.25 arising from the second component of the father’s child support obligation. The mother arrived at this sum by performing calculations based on K-1 statements received by the father from Eifert French & Co.

In opposition, the father contended that the second component of his child support obligation should be calculated based only on distribution checks he received from Eifert French & Co, rather than the income reflected on his K-1 statements. Based on that limitation, the father calculated that the correct amount of arrears he owed for this second component of his child support obligation was $21,137.49.

Supreme Court, Westchester County Justice Colleen D. Duffy agreed with the father and found arrears to be $21,137.49. The mother appealed.

Continue Reading K-1 Income and the Calculation of Child Support

female graduate with her fatherWhen a divorce settlement contemplates paying child support throughout four years of college, what happens when the child graduates in three?

The statutory obligation to support a child ends at the child’s 21st birthday. It is common with divorce settlements to extend child support beyond the 21st birthday if the child is continuing to attend college on a full-time basis. However, defining when the periodic support obligation will end is not always made clear.

Take the March 30, 2016 decision of the Appellate Division, Second Department, in Fleming v. Fleming. The parties’ divorce stipulation of settlement required the father to pay periodic child support until the children reached the age of 21, or the completion of “four (4) academic years of college,” whichever occurred last, but in no event beyond the school year of the child’s 23rd birthday.

However, the parties’ daughter graduated from college after only three years of study, one month after her 21st birthday. The father stopped paying child support. The daughter went on to graduate school.

The mother moved to enforce the stipulation’s obligation for the father to pay periodic child support. She asserted that the stipulation required the father to continue paying child support during their daughter’s first year of graduate school. Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Stephen M. Behar granted the mother’s motion, finding that the child had completed only three academic years of college. Justice Behar directed the father to continue paying child support until the child completed “four (4) full academic years of college, or until the child’s 23rd birthday, whichever occurs first.”

The Second Department reversed.

When interpreting a contract, such as a separation agreement, the court should arrive at a construction that will give fair meaning to all of the language employed by the parties to reach a practical interpretation of the expressions of the parties so that their reasonable expectations will be realized.

Continue Reading Support When the Child Graduates College in Three Years