Where a divorce settlement agreement provides that the parties have agreed to deviate from the Child Support Standards Act formula in part because of the time the “non-custodial” parent is to spend with the children, a substantial reduction in that visitation may result in an increase in the child support obligation.

Such was the holding of the Fourth Department in its September 27, 2013 decision in Gallagher v. Gallagher.

That parties’ original child support obligation was fixed by their separation agreement. That separation agreement had been incorporated, but did not merge into the parties’ Judgment of Divorce. The agreement recited that the father’s obligation varied from the Child Support Standards Act formula due to several factors including the fact that the children were to spend a significant portion of time with the father pursuant to the visitation schedule set forth in the separation agreement. [We are not provided with the amount of the child support obligation, the incomes of the parties, nor the agreement’s visitation schedule.]

When the father’s relationship with the children broke down, the mother petitioned the Steuben County Family Court for an upward modification of the father’s child support obligation. She alleged that there was now only sporadic visitation with the children, as a result of which the mother claimed a concomitant increase in her child-rearing expenses.

The evidence presented before Family Court Judge Joseph W. Latham established that such a breakdown occurred. However, Judge Latham ruled that the mother failed to establish a sufficient change in circumstances to warrant modification of the father’s child support obligation.

The Fourth Department disagreed. Quoting the 2002 decision of the Court of Appeals in Gravlin v. Ruppert, 98 N.Y.2d 1, 6, 743 N.Y.S.2d 773 (2002), the Fourth Department stated:

The complete breakdown in the visitation arrangement, which effectively extinguished [the father’s] support obligation, constituted an unanticipated change in circumstances that created the need for modification of the child support obligations.

The Fourth Department  therefore reversed the order, reinstated the mother’s petition, and remitted the matter to the Family Court for a determination of the appropriate amount of support to be paid by the father, after a further hearing if necessary.


Continue Reading Sporadic Visitation by Father is Basis to Increase Child Support

It is common for a divorce settlement agreement to provide that a child will be emancipated if he or she leaves the residence of the custodial parent. The result is the stated reduction in child support payments to the custodial parent. However, if the child not only leaves the custodial parent, but moves in with the non-custodial parent, may that parent obtain child support from the former custodial parent? That will depend on the language, or more particularly, the lack of language of the parents’ agreement.

Such is the lesson of the July 10, 2013 decision of the Appellate Division, Second Department, in Samuelson v. Samuelson. In that case, the parties were divorced in January, 2011. The divorce judgment incorporated the parties’ 2009 surviving stipulation of settlement.

Under that agreement, the father agreed to pay the mother basic child support of $1,150 per month for the parties’ two children until the occurrence of an “emancipation event,” defined to include a “change in custody.” The stipulation further provided that in the event one child was emancipated, the father’s basic child support obligation would be reduced to $846 per month.

Two months after the divorce judgment was entered, the parties agreed to transfer custody of their son from the mother to the father. Several months later, the father moved for an award of child support from the mother, to be “credited against my child support payments re our minor daughter.” The father claimed he was on the verge of personal bankruptcy.

Supreme Court Queens County Justice William Harrington denied the father’s motion, accepting the mother’s argument, and finding that the parties’ obligations were set by their agreement. The father failed to establish an unanticipated and unreasonable change in circumstances, or that the child’s needs were not being met.

The Second Department affirmed. The parties’ agreement was binding. Since the stipulation set forth the plaintiff’s child support obligation in the event of a change of custody of one of the children, a change in custody of one of the children could not be considered unanticipated.


Continue Reading Child Support: When One of the Children Switches Homes