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.
The Second Department affirmed. The appellate court found that Magistrate Bloom had properly imputed to the father income due to benefits received from his employer, including his car payment of $850 per month.
Moreover, the Second Department noted that a court may deviate from a formula award if it is found that the noncustodial parent’s basic child support obligation is “unjust or inappropriate.” Statutory factors are to be considered including t]he financial resources of the custodial and non-custodial parent, and those of the child.” The court may also consider “any other factors it deems relevant.”
Here, the father testified that he resided with his girlfriend, and that he did not financially contribute to any of their household expenses. Accordingly, in light of the financial support the father received from his girlfriend, the Second Depart held that the Support Magistrate had providently exercised her discretion in deviating from the presumptively correct amount of child support, instead directing the father to pay $650 per week.
It may not have been necessary to resort to the “any other factor” basis to deviate from the application of the presumptive C.S.S.A. formula. Just as the Magistrate was entitle to impute income to the father based upon fringe benefits provided by his employer, a court is entitled to include in a parent’s income “money, goods, or services provided by relatives and friends” D.R.L. §240(1-b)(b)(5)(iv)(D) and F.C.A. §413(b)(5)(iv)(D).
However, at some point the impact of this type of inquiry on family law litigation should be considered. Should a threshold be met before looking into such matters, such as are the needs of the children being met? Should every change in relationship status constitute a change in circumstances warranting a review of child support obligations? If the custodial parent remarries should child support obligation of the other parent be reduced? After all, the custodial parent’s expenses, including those for the benefit of the children are, or should be reduced. Is the court to inquire whether it is the parent or the new mate who is paying for residential expenses and which is paying for food, entertainment, vacations, etc.? Are new couples to make their expense-paying arrangements in anticipation of support litigation? Are the analysis standards for the custodial and non-custodial parent to be the same?
Ian S. Mednick, P.C., of Hauppauge, represented the father.