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.

Magistrate Lynaugh stated that it was appropriate to calculate the father’s support obligation based on the combined parental income in excess of the cap because:

  • the mother lived with her parents,

  • she worked part-time as a registered nurse in a nursing home,

  • the father’s newborn child by a different mother enjoyed the benefits of his substantial income, and

  • the subject child was in need of the full measure of support.

As a result, the Support Magistrate applied the statutory child support percentage under the C.S.S.A.—17% for one child—to the entire amount of combined parental income, and directed the father to pay child support in the sum of $542 per week. Suffolk County Family Court Judge George F. Harkin denied the father’s objections and the father appealed.

The Second Department agreed with Magistrate Lynaugh’s determination of the father’s income. The court properly began with his filed tax return to determine his income from employment at a car dealership and from an S-corporation of which he was the sole shareholder. The Support Magistrate also properly considered that the father received an average of $700 per month in rental income and imputed income to the father based upon S-corporation paying for his automobile and other personal expenses.

However, the Second Department agreed with the father that the reasons articulated by the Support Magistrate for applying the statutory percentage to the combined parental income over the statutory cap of $141,000 were not supported by the record. The Family Court was required to articulate an explanation of the basis for its calculation of child support based on parental income in excess of the statutory cap, and refect “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. The court must relate that record articulation” to the factors set forth in Family Court Act §413(1)(f), including a consideration of the financial resources of the custodial and noncustodial parent, and the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the parties had remained together.

Here, the Second Department held, the Support Magistrate’s reasons for applying the statutory percentage to the combined parental income in excess of $141,000 were not sufficiently related to the statutory factors.

  • In describing the parties’ respective financial situations, the Support Magistrate noted the mother’s student loan obligations, but did not consider the monthly debts and expenses burdening the father.

  • Although the Support Magistrate correctly observed that, at the time of the hearing, the father resided with his girlfriend and their newborn daughter, she did not adequately consider the father’s expenses with respect to his second child.

  • Notably, there was testimony that, for a period of time, the father’s girlfriend was not working in order to care for the newborn child and

  • the father was having trouble covering all of the household expenses.

  • Additionally, the Support Magistrate did not consider the other types of support that the father provided to the subject child, including health insurance coverage and college savings contributions.

  • Further, there was unrefuted testimony that the child was with the father approximately 100 days out of the year, and that he pays for all of her expenses when she is with him.

Further, the appellate court noted that when determining the appropriate amount of child support, a court should consider a child’s “actual needs and the amount required . . . [for him or her] to live an appropriate lifestyle.” Here, the Support Magistrate’s conclusory determination that the subject child was in need of the full measure of child support — i.e., application of the statutory percentage to the combined parental income in excess of the statutory cap — was belied by the record. The mother’s own testimony demonstrated that the child attends public school and has no special needs or learning disabilities. Moreover, the mother testified that she had no childcare expenses, she lived rent-free at her parent’s house, she spent about $50-70 per week on food for the child, and there were no extraordinary expenses.

Under these circumstances, applying the statutory factors, the appellate court found that it would have been appropriate to apply the statutory percentage to the statutory cap of $141,000, with no further child support obligation based on the combined income over that amount.

The Second Department therefore redetermined that the father’s obligation should be reduced from $542 to $378 per week (17% of the father’s 82% of the first $141,000 of total parental income).

Michael J. Alber, P.C., of Commack, NY (Megan M. Tomlin of counsel), represented the father.