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

Calulator on 100s 3In its April 1, 2015 decision in Pittman v. Williams, the Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed a decision of Supreme Court, Kings County Court Attorney/Referee (and now Family Court Judge) J. Machelle Sweeting that awarded child support equal to 17% of the father’s entire $441,000 income.  The Second Department also deleted a requirement that the father pay private school tuition after preschool, and allocated the wife’s child care expense equally between the father’s child and another of the mother’s children for whom care was provided.

In this child support proceeding, the parties’ combined income was $489,937. The father’s income represented 90% of this sum or C.S.S.A.-adjusted income of approximately $441,000 per year; the mother’s 10% share was approximately $49,000. Referee Sweeting directed the father to pay child support in the sum of $6,246 per month, child care expenses in the sum of $291.60 per week, and his pro rata share of the child’s tuition at the Brooklyn Waldorf School.

The Second Department reversed and remitted the matter for a new determination of the amount of the basic child support obligation.

The Child Support Standards Act sets forth a formula for calculating child support by applying a designated statutory percentage, here 17% for one child, to combined parental income up to a particular ceiling. The court, in fixing the basic child support obligation on income over the ceiling, i.e., the “statutory cap” (in this case, $136,000), has the discretion to apply the factors set forth in the statute, or to apply the statutory percentage, or to apply both.

However, there must be some record articulation of the reasons for the court’s choice to facilitate review. The court’s decision should reflect a careful consideration of the stated basis for its exercise of discretion, the parties’ circumstances, and its reasoning why there should or should not be a departure from the prescribed percentage. In addition to providing a record articulation for deviating or not deviating from the statutory formula, a court must relate that record articulation to the statutory factors.

Here, the Second Department held that the Referee properly determined that the parties’ combined parental income was $489,937. However, when determining the amount of child support, Referee Sweeting failed to articulate her reasons for applying the statutory percentage of 17% to the combined parental income over the statutory cap of $136,000. As a result, her determination was reversed. It was held that the matter must be remitted for a new determination in this regard and the court must articulate its reasons for the new determination.

Continue Reading Reasons To Apply CSSA Formula to Father's $441,000 Income Must Be Stated; No Private School Payment Without Proof Of Superiority Of Education

It is often said that it is difficult, if not impossible to prove a negative. The concept may be extended to finding the intent of the parties to a contract, and more particularly a divorce settlement agreement

One would think a divorce settlement agreement would provide for all of the rights and obligations of a divorcing couple arising from their marriage, children, and divorce. So what happens when a subject is not specifically covered? If the agreement does not state that a specific child support-related expense is to be paid by the non-custodial parent, does that mean that that parent does not have such an obligation? Is an agreement required to specifically provide that any obligation not specifically stated does not exist?

Take the November 26, 2014 decision of the Appellate Division, Third Department, in Malone v. Malone. In that case, the Third Department upheld the denial of an ex-wife’s requested upward modification of the ex-husband’s child support because the underlying divorce settlement agreements were not unfair or inequitable when entered into; there was no proof the children’s needs were not being met (pardon the double negative); and there was no other basis for an upward modification. Doing so the Third Department affirmed the holding of Rensselaer County Supreme Court Acting Justice Peter A. Lynch.

Continue Reading Divorce Settlements: It’s Not Just What You Say, But What You Don’t Say

Considering the add-ons for private school, health care, child care, and extra-curricular activities, imposing a base child support obligation upon a father (the less-moneyed spouse) in excess of his pro rata share of the first $136,000 of combined parental income would be unjust and inappropriate. Such was the holding of Acting Supreme Court Kings County Justice Debra Silber in her August 12, 2013 decision in A.C. v. J.O.

That ruling, at first blush, would appear to be at odds with the Second Department’s August 14, 2013 decision in  Beroza v. Hendler, the subject of Monday’s blog post. There, the appellate court held it was improper for the trial court to have limited the base child support obligation of the father (the less moneyed spouse) to less than his pro rata share of the first $400,000 in combined parental income.

Any comparison, however, must be clouded by the vast number of factors that Justice Silber considered when deciding all of the issues incident to the parties’ divorce.

In A.C. v. J.O., at the time of the commencement of the divorce action in May, 2011, the parties had been married for almost 13 years. They had two children, a daughter now 12 and a son now 10. The parties were still living together. The wife, 52 years old, had her own dental practice, with income stipulated to be $251, 395. The husband, 47, worked as a first assistant director, primarily for television. He also wrote screenplays and recently made a full length film, which he both wrote and directed. The husband’s income was stipulated to be $171,706.

In a lengthy opinion, Justice Silber awarded the mother both physical and legal (decision-making) custody of the two children. Although both parents could handle parenting responsibilities alone, joint custody was not appropriate as the parents’ “cannot easily agree upon anything.” Justice Silber provided a detailed plan for the father’s “parental access” and consultation on major decisions.

Continue Reading No Child Support Awarded Upon Combined Parental Income in Excess of $136,000 Statutory Cap

Two decisions within the last 10 days confirm the need for agreements relating to support to be in (an acknowledged) writing, and then incorporated in a court order.

In one, the Second Department affirmed the award of maintenance arrears without a hearing despite the claimed reduction of maintenance under an oral modification of the parties’ separation agreement. In the second, Albany County Family Court Judge W. Dennis Duggan directed a father to pay 71% of his older son’s private middle school expense, despite the mother’s conceded agreement to pay the full tuition.

In its January 30, 2103 decision in Parker v. Navarra, the Second Department affirmed the award of maintenance arrears by Dutchess County Supreme Court Justice James V. Brands. The ex-husband alleged that he and his ex-wife had orally modified the maintenance provisions of their separation agreement and, alternatively, that the ex-wife should be equitably estopped from enforcing the maintenance provisions of the separation agreement. The ex-husband had requested an evidentiary hearing so that he could present the testimony of witnesses on those issues. Justice Brands denied the request for an evidentiary hearing, awarding arrears on the basis of the parties’ submissions.

The Second Department affirmed, noting that the ex-husband failed to make a showing sufficient to entitle him to a hearing on this issue:

Where, as here, the parties’ separation agreement contains a provision that expressly provides that modifications must be in writing, an alleged oral modification is enforceable only if there is part performance that is unequivocally referable to the oral modification. The defendant did not demonstrate that the plaintiff’s acceptance of reduced monthly maintenance payments was unequivocally referable to an alleged oral modification by, for example, demonstrating that consideration was given in exchange for the plaintiff’s alleged oral agreement to accept reduced maintenance payments.

Moreover, to establish a defense of equitable estoppel, the ex-husband was required to have shown that the ex-wife’s conduct induced his significant and substantial reliance upon an oral modification. Again, the ex-husband was required to have shown that the conduct relied upon to establish estoppel was not otherwise  compatible with the agreement as written.

Continue Reading Support Modification Agreements: Get’em in Writing; Get’em into Court (Part II)