May the non-custodial parent deprived of seeing a child terminate his or her child support obligation? According to two March 16, 2016 decisions of the Appellate Division, Second Department, the result may turn on both who is to blame and how old is the child.

In Brinskelle v. Widman, and in response to his ex-wife’s post-divorce Family Court application for an upward modification of child support, a father asked to be relieved of his obligation to support the parties’ 18-year-old son on the ground that the son was emancipated within the meaning of the parties’ stipulation. The father also sought to terminate his support obligation for his 14-year-old daughter on the ground of constructive emancipation. After a hearing, Suffolk County Support Magistrate Denise Livrieri granted the mother’s petition and denied the father’s petition. Suffolk County Family Court Judge Bernard Cheng denied the father’s objections and the father appealed.

The Second Department affirmed. Under New York law, a parent is required to support a child until the child reaches the age of 21 (see Family Ct Act § 413[1][a]). However, a child may be deemed emancipated if he or she is fully self-supporting and financially independent from his or her parents. Alternatively, the parties may provide in a written agreement for emancipation contingencies. Here, the father failed to meet his burden to prove that the 18-year old son was emancipated as defined by the parties’ divorce stipulation of settlement: that the child had reached the age of 18, and was employed at least 30 hours per week, and was not a full-time student.

The father also argued that the parties’ 14-year old daughter was constructively emancipated. Here, despite the fact that it was not the father’s fault his 14-year old daughter was refusing to see him, she was not old enough to be punished. The father would remain liable to support her.

Under the doctrine of constructive emancipation, where a minor of employable age and in full possession of his or her faculties, voluntarily and without cause, abandons the parent’s home, against the will of the parent and for the purpose of avoiding parental control, he or she forfeits his or her right to demand support. However, “where it is the parent who causes a breakdown in communication with his or her child, or has made no serious effort to contact the child and exercise his or her visitation rights, the child will not be deemed to have abandoned the parent.”

Here, the Second Department held that even accepting the father’s testimony that the parties’ 14-year old daughter had voluntarily and without cause rejected his efforts to maintain a relationship with her in an attempt to avoid his parental control, the daughter was not “of employable age,” and thus, the father, as a matter of law, could not establish the daughter’s constructive emancipation.


Continue Reading Child Support and the Parent Deprived of Visitation

OverstuffedIn contrast to its decision in Zaratzian, the subject of yesterday’s blog post, the Second Department, in Eagar v. Suchan, held the same day that a father was entitled to receive child support from a mother after their two children moved in with him.

In Eagar, the parties’ 1999 Settlement Agreement which was incorporated, but not merged into their judgment of divorce, contained separate provisions for child support and the payment of college expenses for the children. At the time, the then 7- and 5-year old sons of the parties lived with their mother.

After the parties’ two children began to reside with the father, he petitioned to terminate his child support obligation.

After a hearing, Suffolk County Support Magistrate (and former Judge) Barbara Lynaugh granted the father’s petition. She determined that the parties’ older child, then 21, was emancipated, and directed the mother to pay child support to the father for the parties’ younger child, then 19, in the sum of $344 per week. Family Court Judge Martha L. Luft denied the mother’s objections to the ruling.

The Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed. It held that Magistrate Lynaugh properly exercised her discretion when applying the Child Support Standards Act formula percentage to the combined parental income in excess of the statutory cap. “Here, the Support Magistrate properly articulated her reasons for applying the statutory percentages to parental income over the statutory cap, and her determination was not an improvident exercise of discretion.” It appears that the mother’s C.S.S.A.-adjusted annual income was approximately $105,000.00, which (applying the 17% formula) resulted in a $344.00 per week award.

The appellate court did not discuss the language of the parties’ Stipulation of Settlement, or why that language allowed for an affirmative award to the father.


Continue Reading “I’m Moving In With Daddy”: The Child Support Perspective (Part II)

Packed and Ready to GoAmong the hardest jobs of the matrimonial lawyer is to draft divorce settlement agreements that anticipate post-divorce events and then resolve them with precision. Two May 20, 2015 decisions of the Second Department highlight just how hard those jobs can be when it comes dealing with the child who switches his or her primary residence.

In Zaratzian v. Abadir, the appellate court affirmed a decision of Westchester County Supreme Court Justice John P. Colangelo that applied one couple’s Agreement to resolve their conflict in a manner neither party may have wanted.

Under their 2006 divorce settlement Agreement, the parties, both medical doctors, agreed to equally-shared time with their three children, and older daughter, then age 12, and 10 and 6-year old sons. Following the father’s remarriage in 2008 and the pregnancy of his new wife, the time-sharing arrangement broke down. The daughter resided only with the mother, the older son with the father and the younger son continuing to switch. Subsequent Family Court custody proceedings resulted in both boys living with their father.

Under the Separation Agreement, the father had agreed to pay the mother $1,500 per month in maintenance until the emancipation of one of the children. Until then, the father would pay an additional $1,500 per month in child support for all three unemancipated children. Upon the emancipation of one child, maintenance would stop, but child support would be increased to $1,750 per month. Upon the second emancipation, child support would be reduced to $1,000 per month.

The support Article of the Agreement contained the following typewritten provision:

Both parties agree to be bound by the provisions set forth in this Article III and each party agrees that neither party shall at any time make any application to modify the financial provisions of this Article III or the financial provisions of the divorce decree subsequently entered between the parties.

The Agreement defined various emancipation events, including:

Permanent residence away from the residence of the Father and the Mother. A residence at boarding school, camp, or college is not to be deemed a residence away from the residence of the Wife, and hence, such a residence at boarding school, camp, or college is not an emancipation event.

The emancipation Article also contained the following handwritten provision:

Notwithstanding any other term or provision contained in this agreement, in the event one or more of the children reside primarily with the Father, he shall be permitted to make any application he deems appropriate to modify his child support obligation as set forth in Article III and the resulting order shall supercede the terms of this agreement.

Following the Family Court proceedings, the mother moved in Supreme Court for an order relating to the payment of private school tuition for the daughter (she later asked for child support for the daughter computed under the Child Support Standards Act). The father cross-moved for an order requiring the mother to pay him C.S.S.A.-computed child support for the parties’ two sons.


Continue Reading "I'm Moving In With Daddy": The Child Support Perspective (Part I)

When calculating a child support obligation, what effect does a simultaneous spousal maintenance award have? The November 21, 2013 decision of the Appellate Division, Third Department, in Alecca v. Alecca reveals the conflict among the Departments, questions of logic, and the need for action by the Legislature.

Agreeing with Judge Anthony McGinty, deciding for the Ulster County Supreme Court, the appellate court held in Alecca that if a spousal maintenance award does not terminate until after all children have been emancipated, the maintenance award may not be deducted from the payor’s income for child support calculation purposes. Spousal maintenance does get deducted if it terminates before all children are emancipated and the awarding court provides for a specific adjustment of child support at the time of the maintenance termination.

Child support is presumptively the function of the Child Support Standards Acct (C.S.S.A.) formula (D.R.L. §240 [1-b]; F.C.A. §413). Depending upon the number of children to be supported, the presumptive formula is a certain percentage of parental income, with the obligation of the support payor being the payor’s pro rata portion of the combined parental income of both parents. In addition to the basic child support obligation, the parents’ obligation to pay additional amounts for health and child care expenses  is also presumptively a function of the parents’ pro rata shares of their combined income. Although relevant, an add-on obligation for educational expenses (if warranted by the circumstances, justice, and the best interests of the child) is not expressly a function of pro rata shares.


Continue Reading Child Support Computations When Spousal Maintenance is Awarded

College Fund 4.jpgA recent decision of the Appellate Division, Third Department, appears to unduly expand the basis upon which a parent may be obligated to contribute to the college education expenses of a child beyond age 21.

Generally, a parent’s obligation to support a child terminates when the child reaches age 21. That general rule, of course, may be varied by the parents themselves by agreement.

Indeed, it is quite common to extend by agreement a parent’s support obligation, beyond the date on which a child turns  21, in a written separation agreement or divorce action stipulation of settlement, whether written or entered in open court. Such agreements often have an “emancipation” clause which defines the circumstances under which a child will be deemed emancipated for the purposes of the parent’s support obligation to a time either before or after child reaches age 21. Again, it is common to delay emancipation until the child turns 22 or thereafter, if the child is enrolled on a full-time basis in an accredited college, university or other post-high school educational program. If properly entered, such agreements are routinely incorporated into divorce judgments or other support orders. They are enforceable in both Supreme and Family Courts.

In its January, 2012 decision in Shapiro v. Shapiro, the Third Department affirmed a divorce judgment which, in part, obligated a father to contribute his pro rata share of college expenses until each child reaches the age of 22.

The court acknowledged that absent an agreement extending the obligation, a parent is not legally obligated to pay college costs for a child that has reached the age of 21. However, the court found that such an agreement could be inferred from statements which did not expressly exclude post-21 expenses from a statement agreeing to contribute to college. The sole basis of the Third Department’s decision was as follows:

Plaintiff acknowledged in his testimony that he had, in fact, agreed to pay part of the children’s college education costs, there was no indication that he intended to limit his payments to the children’s first three years in college, and proof at trial established that funds had been previously set up to assist in such costs. Under these circumstances, it was not error for Supreme Court to direct plaintiff to pay a portion of the children’s college costs until they reach the age of 22.


Continue Reading Court Extends Parent's Obligation to Pay College Expenses Beyond Child's 21st Birthday