A court’s reduction of a divorce judgment’s child support obligations, incorporated from a settlement agreement that survived the entry of that judgment, does not result in a modification of the agreement. The shortfall may still be collected through a separate action to enforce the contract.
As Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Leonard D. Steinman noted in his July 1, 2013 decision in N.S. v. A.S., N.Y.L.J. July 22, 2013, such has been the law of this State for over 70 years:
A modification of a divorce judgment or decree providing that a party is to pay a sum less than he agreed to pay does not relieve such party of any contractual obligation.
In this case, the parties entered a Stipulation of Settlement in January, 2003,resolving all issues stemming from their divorce proceedings. The parties agreed that the agreement would be incorporated but not merged into their judgment of divorce.
Among the issues resolved were custody and child support for their son, then 2½ years old. It was agreed that the wife would receive child support from the husband in the amount of $34,000 per year ($2,833.33 per month) for 48 months and thereafter the sum of $39,146 per year ($3,262.16 per month) The increased amount coinciding with the cessation of four years of maintenance payments to the wife at $3,833.33 per month.
The agreement reflected the ex-husband’s 2001 income was $312,121. The agreement, itself, provided that if the ex-husband’s income were to dip below $250,000, the parties would attempt to renegotiate the maintenance amount. If unsuccessful, the ex-husband could seek a downward modification of his maintenance obligation from the court. The agreement did not provide to the ex-husband with a concomitant right to seek a downward modification of his child support obligations in the event of a reduction in his income.
In April 2004, ex-husband became unemployed and subsequently took a position at the reduced salary of $150,000. In March 2006, the ex-husband moved for a downward modification of his child support and maintenance obligations (by that time, the ex-husband’s maintenance obligations had expired, but he claimed that there were arrears owed to his ex-wife based which he looked to cancel).