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

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

May the non-custodial parent deprived of seeing a child terminate his or her child support obligation? According to two March 16, 2016 decisions of the Appellate Division, Second Department, the result may turn on both who is to blame and how old is the child.

In Brinskelle v. Widman, and in response to his ex-wife’s post-divorce Family Court application for an upward modification of child support, a father asked to be relieved of his obligation to support the parties’ 18-year-old son on the ground that the son was emancipated within the meaning of the parties’ stipulation. The father also sought to terminate his support obligation for his 14-year-old daughter on the ground of constructive emancipation. After a hearing, Suffolk County Support Magistrate Denise Livrieri granted the mother’s petition and denied the father’s petition. Suffolk County Family Court Judge Bernard Cheng denied the father’s objections and the father appealed.

The Second Department affirmed. Under New York law, a parent is required to support a child until the child reaches the age of 21 (see Family Ct Act § 413[1][a]). However, a child may be deemed emancipated if he or she is fully self-supporting and financially independent from his or her parents. Alternatively, the parties may provide in a written agreement for emancipation contingencies. Here, the father failed to meet his burden to prove that the 18-year old son was emancipated as defined by the parties’ divorce stipulation of settlement: that the child had reached the age of 18, and was employed at least 30 hours per week, and was not a full-time student.

The father also argued that the parties’ 14-year old daughter was constructively emancipated. Here, despite the fact that it was not the father’s fault his 14-year old daughter was refusing to see him, she was not old enough to be punished. The father would remain liable to support her.

Under the doctrine of constructive emancipation, where a minor of employable age and in full possession of his or her faculties, voluntarily and without cause, abandons the parent’s home, against the will of the parent and for the purpose of avoiding parental control, he or she forfeits his or her right to demand support. However, “where it is the parent who causes a breakdown in communication with his or her child, or has made no serious effort to contact the child and exercise his or her visitation rights, the child will not be deemed to have abandoned the parent.”

Here, the Second Department held that even accepting the father’s testimony that the parties’ 14-year old daughter had voluntarily and without cause rejected his efforts to maintain a relationship with her in an attempt to avoid his parental control, the daughter was not “of employable age,” and thus, the father, as a matter of law, could not establish the daughter’s constructive emancipation.

Continue Reading Child Support and the Parent Deprived of Visitation

Trinity timesIn its February 18, 2016 decision in Michael J. D. V. Carolina E. P., the Appellate Division, First Department, held that because the trial court did not follow the precise requirements of the CSSA when determining that private school education and summer, extracurricular and weekend activities should be paid over and above basic child support, those awards would be vacated.

When making child support awards, the requirements of the Child Support Standards Act (CSSA) (Family Court Act §413 and Domestic Relations Law §240[1-b]) must be strictly followed. After the calculation of the basic periodic child support amount, the statute allows for the payment of certain categories of enumerated add on expenses, prorated according to the parents’ relative incomes.

The add on expenses expressly addressed in the CSSA are:

  1. child care expenses when a custodial parent is working, looking for work and/or engaged in an educational or training program that will lead to employment;
  2. health insurance and unreimbursed medical expenses; and
  3. educational expenses.

In the case before it, the parties were the parents of a son born December 17, 2008. The parties were never married and were not living together when the child was born. After the father learned he had a son, the mother and the child moved into the father’s luxury apartment in lower Manhattan. The parties were hopeful of continuing as a family and while living together, discussed marriage and the possibility of having a second child. They also discussed their son’s future, and the possibility he would attend a private school. It was their expectation at that time that the child would enjoy the “best of everything.” This living arrangement, however, was short-lived, lasting only four months (from May – August, 2009).

Continue Reading Child Support Awards of Private School Tuition and Activities Require Statement of Factors Considered

As of January 31, 2016, the “income cap” for maintenance is $178,000.

The presumptive final maintenance formula on the first $175,000 of the payor’s annual income only just came into effect 6 days before that, for cases filed on or after January 25, 2016 (New York’s Laws of 2015, chapter 269 (D.R.L. §236[B][6][b][4]). For temporary maintenance, the $175,000 income cap under D.R.L. §236(B)(5-a)(b)(4) became effective for cases filed after October 24, 2015.

The Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to the $175,000 income cap is to be made every two years:

“[B]eginning January thirty-first, two thousand sixteen and every two years thereafter, the income cap amount shall increase by the sum of the average annual percentage changes in the consumer price index for all urban consumers (CPIU) as published by the United States department of labor bureau of labor statistics for the prior two years multiplied by the then income cap and then rounded to the nearest one thousand dollars. The office of court administration shall determine and publish the income cap.”

However, the income cap for child support purposes is still the $141,000 that has been in place since January 31, 2014.

Why? Because under New York’s Laws of 2015, chapter 347, Social Services Law §111-i was amended to change the COLA date from January 31st to March 1st. The child support cap will remain $141,000 until March 1, 2016.
Continue Reading Cost of Living Adjustments to the Maintenance and Child Support Formulas

In its January 7, 2016 decision in Fermon v. Fermon, the Appellate Division, Third Department, affirmed that part of the order of Rensselaer County Supreme Court Justice Raymond J. Elliott, III, that included in a permanent award of child support that the husband pay 25% of his future bonuses from his employer.

Here, the parties were married in 2000 and had two sons (born in 2002 and 2006). They were divorced in 2012 and, pursuant to a written stipulation of settlement that was incorporated but not merged with the judgment of divorce, they retained joint custody of the children and waived application of the Child Support Standards Act (see Domestic Relations Law § 240 [1-b]) to provide for no payments of basic child support.

Extensive motion practice ensued, with the wife seeking a variety of relief that included modification of the custody and child support provisions of the judgment, an assessment as to whether the husband committed fraud in the negotiations that led to the execution of the stipulation and an award of counsel fees to the wife. Justice Elliott conducted a hearing on the motions, after which he modified the provisions of the judgment to grant the wife sole legal custody of the children and directed the husband to pay the wife basic child support, arrearages and various add-ons> He further directed the husband to pay an additional $11,500 to the wife due to his alleged fraud in misrepresenting the value of his individual retirement account, and awarded the wife $35,000 in counsel fees. Both parties appealed.

Continue Reading Child Support Award Includes 25% of Father's Future Bonuses

A court will not provide for a reduction in child support upon the emancipation of the elder of two children when the parties’ divorce settlement stipulation, itself, does not provide for one. So held the Appellate Division, First Department, in its 3-2 December 29, 2015 decision in Schulman v. Miller.

That settlement stipulation required the husband to pay unallocated periodic child support for the parties’ two children, plus cost of living adjustments, as well as other expenses of each child, including education and college. It did not provide for the reduction or recalculation of the husband’s child support obligation upon the emancipation of the older child. The agreement did not allocate the husband’s child support obligation as between the children, nor provide a formula for a reduction in the event of one child’s emancipation.

Affirming the order of Supreme Court, New York County Justice Lori S. Sattler, the appellate court noted that the settlement stipulation did provide for a termination or reduction of certain of the husband’s financial obligations upon the happening of specified events, including, for example, his obligation to pay maintenance to the wife, his obligation to maintain medical insurance for each child, payments for car service, and the like. Thus, the settlement provision concerning medical insurance explicitly stated that the husband “shall have the right to terminate such coverage for either Child at the time she becomes emancipated.” The parties’ stipulation of settlement was an exhaustive, 62-page document. Both parties were represented by counsel during its negotiation (indeed, the husband himself is an experienced attorney).

Continue Reading Absent Provision in Divorce Agreement, No Reduction in Child Support on Emancipation of Elder Child

Planning the budget
Planning the budget

To what extent, if any, should the courts look to step-parents and significant others to support the children of their mates? What effect should the financial arrangements between a parent and his or her new significant other (married or not married) have on the calculation of child support obligations?

Consider the November 4, 2015 decision of the Appellate Division, Second Department, in Geller v. Geller. In this case a father had petitioned for a downward modification of his $930/week child support obligation when two of his four children were emancipated.

After a hearing, Nassau County Family Court Support Magistrate Elizabeth A. Bloom determined that the father was now only required to provide support for the two youngest children, and then recalculated each parent’s pro rata share of the basic child support obligation pursuant to the Child Support Standards Act. When doing so, Magistrate Bloom also imputed income to the father for the various bills paid by the father’s employer. She determined that the father’s pro rata share of the basic child support obligation was $447 per week.

However, Magistrate Bloom deemed this amount to be “unjust or inappropriate” in light of the financial support the father was receiving from his girlfriend. Based on that, Magistrate Bloom increased the father’s formula support obligation by more than 45% to $650 per week ($33,800 per year). The father filed objections to the Support Magistrate’s order. His objections were denied by Family Court Judge Ellen R. Greenberg.

Continue Reading Child Support Calculations and the Significant Other

The father petitioned the Family Court for enforcement of his rights to visit with his 13-year old son. Alternatively, the father asked to suspend his child support obligation. Instead, Westchester County Family Court Judge Hal B. Greenwald granted the mother’s cross petition to modify the prior order of custody and visitation and suspended the father’s visitation with the subject child.

The Appellate Division, Second Department, modified that order by suspending the father’s child support obligation, affirming the suspension of all visitation in its September 2, 2015 decision in Matter of Coull v. Rottman.

In determining custody and visitation rights, the most important factor to be considered is the best interest of the child. Here, the evidence demonstrated that despite the fact that the child had participated in therapy for several months in an effort to foster a relationship with his father, the child remained vehemently opposed to any form of visitation with the father. Furthermore, while the express wishes of the child were not controlling, they were entitled to great weight, particularly where the child’s age and maturity would make his or her input particularly meaningful. Here, the appellate court held that the Judge Greenwald was entitled to place great weight on the child’s wishes, since he was mature enough to express them. Judge Greenwald’s finding that further attempts to compel the child, who was then 13 years old, to engage in visitation would be detrimental to the child’s emotional well being had a sound and substantial basis in the record and, thus, would not be disturbed.

However, contrary to Judge Greenwald’s conclusion, the evidence justified a suspension of the father’s obligation to make future child support payments. The forensic evaluator testified that there was a “pattern of alienation” resulting from the mother’s interference with a regular schedule of visitation. The evaluator was unable to complete her evaluation because the mother refused to consent to the evaluator’s request to speak with mental health providers or school officials, and the child did not appear for his interview.

Moreover, after the father’s last visit with the child, the father continued to go to the exchange location on visitation days for several months. On one occasion, the mother and child appeared, but the mother said the child would not come out of the car. On the other occasions, neither the mother nor the child appeared, nor did the mother communicate with the father. The father was never told about the child’s medical needs or that the child had been hospitalized until after the fact, nor was he advised of any information about the child’s school or school events.

Further, the record reflected that the mother, who represented herself before Judge Greenwald, assumed an inappropriately hostile stance toward the father and witnesses who testified in his favor. Judge Greenwald noted in its decision that the mother stated “many times, that she will never allow [the father] to see the subject child and that she would do whatever it takes to keep the subject child away” from him.

Robin D. Carton, of White Plains, N.Y., attorney for the child.