It is not rare, and may be commendable, to resolve child support obligations based upon anticipated future circumstances: an expected job, obtaining a degree or license, etc. However, when doing so, care must be taken to anticipate not meeting those expectations. When is relief available? The issue is complicated if the parties “opt out” of the statutory ability to seek a modification upon a 15% change in income or three years from the support order.

Consider the 2021 decision of the First Department in Matter of Solomon M. v. Adelaide M., 192 A.D.3d 424, 142 N.Y.S.3d 542. There, at the time the parties entered their child support stipulation, the husband was unemployed and had no income. When the husband later obtained a job, the husband complained his take home pay was inadequate to cover his agree-upon support obligations.

The husband petitioned the Family Court for a downward modification. Bronx County Support Magistrate Shira Atzmon denied the husband’s petition. The Magistrate noted that the husband’s financial situation and potential earning capabilities had actually improved by the time of his petition as compared with the time of the stipulation he sought to modify. By the time of his petition, the husband had earned an MBA and was earning approximately $30,000 per year. Bronx County Family Court Judge Phaedra Perry denied the husband’s objections to the Magistrate’s order. The Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed.


Continue Reading Anticipating Future Finances when Agreeing to Support Obligations

Two of three November 5, 2014 custody decisions of the Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed Family Court determinations.

In the only affirmance in Mondschein v. Mondschein, the Second Department upheld the order of Westchester County Family Court Judge David Klein which, after a hearing, granted a father’s petition to modify the custody provisions of the parties’ divorce (2011) stipulation of settlement, awarding the father sole legal and physical custody of the parties’ two younger children, with supervised visitation to the mother. Affirming Judge Klein, the Second Department noted:

Since custody determinations necessarily depend to a great extent upon an assessment of the character and credibility of the parties and witnesses, deference is accorded the Family Court’s findings. Therefore, its findings should not be set aside unless they lack a sound and substantial basis in the record.

Here, contrary to the mother’s contention, the appellate court found that Judge Klein had properly considered the totality of the circumstances, and that the record supported his determination that there had been a sufficient change in circumstances requiring a change in custody to protect the best interests of the parties’ two younger children. That record included the hearing testimony and the recommendation of the court-appointed forensic evaluator.

In Burke v. Cogan, the Second Department reversed the determination of Suffolk County Family Court Judge Martha Luft that had dismissed the petition of a mother to modify a prior custody order by awarding her sole residential custody of the parties’ 13 year-old child. The appellate court awarded the mother such custody.


Continue Reading Appellate Reversals of Custody Decisions