The Child Support Standards Act authorizes parents to agree to a child support obligation that deviates from the presumptive formula provided in that statute. However, if they are going to deviate from the formula, the parents must state what the obligation would have been if the formula were to be applied, and the reasons why the parties have agreed to deviate.

In its September 26, 2018 decision in Fasano v. Fasano, the Appellate Division, Second Department, held that if one of those reasons no longer applies, such is a “substantial change in circumstances” warranting a new child support determination.

The parties were married in 1993 and have two children together. In October, 2012, the parties entered into a stipulation of settlement of a prior divorce action after which that action was discontinued.

That stipulation provided that although the husband’s monthly child support obligation using the C.S.S.A. calculation would be $1,994.45 on the first $130,000.00 of combined parental income (then, the “cap”) and $2,575.61 on the total combined parental income, the parties had agreed that the husband’s monthly child support obligation would be $1,500.00. The stipulation also provided that there would be no “add-ons” or “additional health costs” added to these child support payments, even though the C.S.S.A. generally provides that each parent’s share of unreimbursed health care expenses is to be prorated in the same proportion as each parent’s income is to the combined parental income.

The stipulation contained an explanation that the deviation from the C.S.S.A. calculation was necessary “to allow the [husband] to retain the marital residence as a place for the children to be with him when they are together” and had “been agreed by the parties to be in the best interests of the children to provide them continuity and stability in their living and educational environments.”

Continue Reading A Child Support Redetermination Is Warranted If a Stated Reason Parties Deviated From CSSA No Longer Applies

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

scissors contract 2.jpgWhat happens when only one provision of an agreement is invalid because it violates some statute or public policy?  The answer may depend on who the court wants to benefit, instead of consistently-applied rules of contract law.

Take, for example the April 5, 2011 decision of the Second Department in Duggan v. Duggan.  In that case, the parties had resolved their divorce by a surviving February 26, 2009 stipulation of settlement. Under that stipulation, the father, who had gross income of $475,000.00, agreed to pay a base monthly child support obligation of $8,000.00.  That amount deviated from the presumptive amount under the Child Support Standards Act (C.S.S.A.) of $11,929.54. The mother had no income.

Apparently, the stipulation also had a provision which called for the reduction in the father’s monthly obligation in the event his income was reduced.

In 2010, the mother brought a Family Court enforcement proceeding when the father ceased making the payments to which he originally agreed. The father raised the stipulation’s modification provision, arguing that his $8,243.00 annual reduction in income to $466,757.00 entitled him to a $76,800.00 annual reduction in child support (to $1,600.00 per month)!

Finding that the father’s interpretation of the stipulation modification provision was “not plausible,” Nassau County Family Court Judge Julianne S. Eisman denied the father’s objections to the Order of Support Magistrate Tejindar S. Kahlon which granted the mother’s arrears petition. Finding that the language of the Stipulation, as interpreted by the father, would violate the C.S.S.A., and was against the best interests of the children, the modification provision was ignored.

On appeal, the Second Department affirmed, holding that the Family Court had the authority to find that a provision in a stipulation of settlement violated the C.S.S.A. The appellate court found that a provision which called for a reduction in child support to 13% of the presumptive C.S.S.A. amount, merely because the father’s income dropped by 1.7% was “against the best interests of the children.”

It is noteworthy that the appellate court did not quote the startling modification provision. Equally noteworthy is that there was no discussion of any interpretation of the modification provision other than the one the Family Court considered implausible.

In order to have obtained the Judgment of Divorce, it would have been necessary to have made the recitation in the stipulation of settlement that the parties had been made aware of the C.S.S.A. and its presumptive formula in their case. D.R.L. §240(1-b)(h).  The parties would have had to have stated the reasons they agreed to deviate from the C.S.S.A guidelines. Specific Findings of Fact would have been made by the Supreme Court upholding those reasons.

It is understandable that the presumed failure of the Supreme Court to review the specific modification provision might not estop the mother from later attacking that provision when it was sought to be applied. Thus, the form language of a divorce judgment that “the parties are directed to comply with every legally enforceable term and provision” of the agreement incorporated into the judgment, does not mean that every provision is, in fact, legally enforceable.

What then is, or should be the impact of rendering unenforceable only one provision of a settlement agreement?

Continue Reading Severability: When Only One Provision of a Divorce Settlement Agreement Is Invalid