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

What is the effect of a divorce settlement stipulation provision, incorporated in the judgment of divorce, that calls for a specified reduction in child support upon the emancipation of one of the children of the parties?

The fact pattern is almost routine. For example, say the parties have three children, 14, 17 and 19. Their divorce settlement tracks the C.S.S.A. Upon the first emancipation (presumably when the 19-year old turns 21, or, perhaps graduates college according to the definition of emancipation in the agreement), the stipulation provides that the child support obligation will go from $2,900 per month to $2,500 per month (tracking the reduction in the formula obligation from 29% for three children to 25% for two children). Assume the full stipulation is incorporated by reference into the parties’ divorce judgment.

Continuing the example, assume that upon the first emancipation, the child support payor in fact reduces his/her payment from $2900 to $2500, but does not have that reduction established by a new court order. A year later, the support recipient goes into court to seek 12 months of $400/per/month arrears. What happens?

Consider last month’s decision of the Appellate Division, Second Department, in Beckmann v. Bedckmann. There, the parties’ 2012 divorce judgment incorporated, but did not merge with, their 2011 stipulation of settlement. The parties had agreed that the husband would pay $700 semi-monthly in basic child support for their two children. In April 2013, the parties’ daughter became emancipated under the terms of the stipulation, and shortly thereafter, the husband reduced his child support payments from $700 to $476 semi-monthly [I am going to dangerously assume that an agreement that defined emancipation would also provide what was to happen on emancipation].

Continue Reading Divorce Settlements that Provide for Reductions in Child Support upon Emancipation

In its March 21, 2018 decision in Elkins v. Mizrahi, the Appellate Division, Second Department, struck a credit issued at the time a father’s new child support obligation was established. That determination tacitly affirmed the new obligation, after a lower court found that a prior waiver of future child support, to which both parties had stipulated, violated public policy. However, the same lower court had previously discharged prior arrears and terminated the father’s support obligation in the order entered that had incorporated that prior stipulation of the parties.

The parties, who have three children together, were divorced in March 2008. In 2014, the parties entered into a stipulation whereby they agreed, inter alia, that the father would pay the mother a lump sum of $50,000.00 in full satisfaction of his accrued child support arrears, which, at that time, exceeded $70,000.00, and that the father’s child support obligation would be terminated going forward. The mother received the $50,000.00 payment on November 21, 2014.

In an order dated January 29, 2015, Nassau County Family Court Judge Ellen R. Greenberg gave effect to the stipulation, terminated the father’s future child support obligation, and directed that the father’s remaining child support arrears of $21,385.46 be deemed satisfied.

Continue Reading Waiver of Future Child Support Voided, But Miscalculated Credit Struck

When negotiating a divorce settlement agreement, the parties should agree on whether or not all child support-related rights and obligations must be redetermined in the event the periodic basic child support obligation is modified.

Take the recent Appellate Division, Second Department, decision in Walsh v. Walsh. There the parties’ settlement agreement was incorporated, but not merged into their 2014 judgment of divorce. Under that agreement, the father was to pay $500 per month in child support.

After the parties divorced, the father began collecting Social Security benefits in addition to his salary, which caused his income to increase by more than 15%. In their agreement, the parties did not opt out of allowing the court to modify the support order, without requiring a party to allege or demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances, where either party’s gross income changed by 15% or more since the order was entered or modified. The mother petitioned for an upward modification of the father’s child support obligation.

Family Court Suffolk County Support Magistrate Kathryn L. Coward granted the upward modification on the basis of the father’s increased income. Calculating the father’s child support obligation under the Child Support Standards Act, the Magistrate awarded the mother $2,074 per month in child support.

The father objected to the Support Magistrate’s order. Family Court Judge Matthew G. Hughes denied the father’s objections. The father appealed. The Second Department affirmed.

Continue Reading Are The Various Types of Child Support Benefits Interrelated?

It is common for the parents of young children when entering a divorce settlement agreement to defer until the children approach college age the determination of the parents’ obligations to contribute. The language chosen to express that deferral may be significant.

The recent decision of the Appellate Division, Second Department, in Conroy v. Hacker, lets us know the agreement language is significant. But we are left asking what would have happened without it.

In Conroy, the parties were married in 1991 and were the parents of two children. Their 1999 divorce judgment incorporated, but did not merge, a 1998 separation agreement. As relevant here, the separation agreement stated:

The parties are not making any specific provisions for the payment of college expenses which may be incurred on behalf of the infant children because of the tender age of said children as of the date of this Agreement. The parties do, however, acknowledge an obligation on each of their parts to contribute to the children’s future college expenses in accordance with their financial abilities at that time.

Continue Reading Enforcing the Divorce Settlement Agreement To Defer Fixing College Obligations

Two recent decisions of the Appellate Division, Second Department, have upheld maintaining a father’s child support obligations despite alleged changes to the nature of the relationship with the child.

in Lovaglio v. Wagner, the father contended that the parties’ then 20-year-old daughter had moved in with him when she entered college. Previously, the daughter resided with the mother in New Jersey since she was 5 years old. However, the father claimed that she began residing with him full-time in Brooklyn after she enrolled in a college in Manhattan during the winter 2015 semester.

After a hearing, Support Magistrate John M. Fasone held that the father failed to establish that the daughter’s residence had changed and denied the father’s petitions to terminate his child support obligation and to receive child support from the mother. In its November 22, 2017 decision, the Second Department affirmed the order of Kings County Family Court Judge Judith Waksberg that had denied the father’s objections to Magistrate Fasone’s order.

Continue Reading Child Support Obligations Do Not Automatically Result Upon Relationship Changes

I’ve never really thought about it.

And although not exactly on point, the August 24, 2017 decision of Kings County Family Court Judge Javier E. Vargas in S.G v. B.G. sheds light on some of the issues a court may face when a child support payor his being “hidden.”

The parties were married in May 1993, and had two now-emancipated children. The father had been a successful diamond dealer and jeweler; the mother was a homemaker and caretaker of the children. In 2002, the parties divorced under a judgment that had incorporated a Separation Agreement. The father was to pay child support of $4,004.60 per month, as well as the children’s insurance, tuition and other educational expenses.

The father complied with his child support obligations until 2008 when he was arrested for fraud in “massive gem heists.” He was incarcerated between 2008 and 2011. Upon his release in May, 2011 until May 2014, the father apparently cooperated with the United States government and was purportedly placed in a safe house by the U.S. Witness Protection Program, under which he had assumed a new identity in another state.

Continue Reading When the Child Support Payor is in the Witness Protection Program

In its July 5, 2017 decision in Decillis v. Decillis, the Appellate Division, Second Department, recognized, but significantly reduced a credit against a formula child support obligation for the father’s extraordinary visitation travel expenses.

The parties were the parents of a child born in 2003. The mother filed a petition for child support. After imputing annual income of $43,000 to the mother, Suffolk County Family Court Support Magistrate Kathryn L. Coward determined that the father’s formula basic child support obligation would be $572 biweekly (grosses up to income of $94,729 per year). However, after gaving the father a $168 biweekly credit to compensate him for the “extraordinary” expenses associated with visitation, the Magistrate directed him to pay child support in the sum of $404 biweekly.

The Second Department first found that the Support Magistrate properly imputed $43,000 of income to the mother based upon her prior income, her choice to engage in only part-time employment, and her current living arrangement, in which she did not pay rent or related housing expenses.

However, the appellate court found that the Support Magistrate improvidently exercised its discretion in awarding the father a $168 credit against his child support obligation $168 for the “extraordinary” expenses associated with visitation, including $67 for travel expenses.

Continue Reading Travel Expenses Credit Against Child Support Reduced on Appeal

In a recent decision of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, in Holeck v. Beyel, 145 A.D.3d 1600, 43 N.Y.S.2d 816, the court upheld a direction to a disabled father (the non-custodial parent) to apply to the Social Security Administration to change representative payee of the children’s social security disability (SSD) benefits from the father to the custodial mother. The appellate court also upheld the denial of the father’s request for a reduction in his support obligation by virtue of his loss of the SSD benefits for the children.

Generally, when a disabled parent is qualified for Social Security disability benefits, the children may also qualify to receive benefits on the disabled parent’s work-record. Eligible children can be a biological, adopted or stepchildren. Normally, benefits stop when the child reaches age 18 unless they are disabled. However, if the child at age 18 is still a full-time student at a secondary (or elementary) school, benefits will continue until the child graduates or until two months after the child becomes age 19, whichever is first.

Continue Reading Child Support and Social Security Disability Payments Received for the Children’s Benefit

It appears that the tremendous burden placed on the Appellate Division, Second Department, to work through its caseload has often led to opinions which leave you wanting to know a little more of the facts so you can put the case into perspective.

Take the the Second Department’s May 31, 2017 decision in Fiore v. Fiore, where the lower court’s opinion was modified to increase a father’s college obligation and which determined summer camp to be the equivalent of child care.

After nine years of marriage and one child, the parties settled their divorce action by an amended agreement that was incorporated into their 2000 Judgment of Divorce. Included among the settlement’s provisions were that the father would pay $12,289 annually for basic child support; that the parents would each pay their pro rata share of unreimbursed medical expenses; and that the father would pay 58% of the cost of day care.

In 2014, the mother moved for upward modification of basic child support, and other child support-related relief, including contribution toward the child’s summer camp and college expenses. Supreme Court, Nassau County Justice Julianne T. Capetola denied the upward modification, denied summer camp expenses, and limited the father’s obligation to pay college expenses to $5,000 per semester.

On appeal, the Second Department upheld the denial of an increase in the basic child support obligation. The mother had failed to meet her burden of proving that there had been a substantial, unanticipated, and unreasonable change in circumstances resulting in a concomitant need, or that the settlement was not fair and equitable when entered into. This was the required burden as the amended stipulation of settlement was entered prior to the effective date of the 2010 amendments to Domestic Relations Law §236(B)(9)(b)(2), when the burden was lessened.

Continue Reading Appellate Court Increases College and Child Care Expense Obligations

Whether by agreement or court decree, it is common for divorced parents to be obligated to contributed to their child’s college education tuition, room and board expenses. How is that obligation computed when a child receives financial aid?

Cases have held that scholarships, grants and aid for which the student has no repayment responsibility are to be subtracted before computing the parents’ obligations. First, the total cost of attending college should be calculated. Next, a court should determine the percentage of that total cost which is covered by financial aid. That percentage is applied to the separate tuition and room and board portions of the total expense. Finally, the parents’ shares of each portion, after deducting the pro rata financial aid, is to be calculated based upon each parent’s share of of responsibility.

For example, if tuition is $12,000 and room and board is $8,000, totaling $20,000, and financial aid is $15,000, or 75% of the total college cost, the net tuition after pro rata financial aid would be $3,000. The father’s pro rata tuition obligation should then be applied to that amount to determine his contribution to tuition. Matter of Yorke v. Yorke (2011).

The question remains what forms of financial aid get subtracted. In Yorke, the Appellate Division, Second Department, held that Stafford loans should not have been subtracted. Stafford loans (Direct Subsidized Loans) are federal student loans borrowed through the Direct Loans program that offer undergraduate students a low, fixed interest rate and flexible repayment terms.

In determining the parents’ respective obligations towards the cost of college, a court should not take into account any college loans for which the student is responsible. Therefore, any loans for which the child is responsible should not have been deducted from the college costs prior to determining the father’s pro rata share of those costs. As held in the Second Department’s decision in Matter of Rashidi v. Rashidi, (2013):

A parent’s share of college expenses for a child should be based on the total cost of tuition, room and board, college fees, and books and miscellaneous expenses as estimated by the university attended by the child, less only the sum of all nonrepayable scholarships, grants, and work-study payments or credits.

In its June 7, 2017 decision in Mons Pinto v. Pinto, the Second Department made the waters a little murkier when holding that Supreme Court, Westchester County Justice Janet C. Malone correctly determined a parent’s share of the children’s college expenses, as well as the credit towards his basic child support obligation to which he was entitled, based on “the total aggregate cost of tuition and room and board, less the sum of scholarships, grants, and federal subsidized loans.”

The appellate court did not indicate whether the issue of student loans was, in fact, involved in the case. However, the language used by the court appears to be a departure from prior decisions.

Annette G. Hasapidis, of South Salem, NY, represented the father. Lawrence B. LaRaus, Buonamici & LaRaus, LLP, of White Plains, represented the mother.