In any divorce or child support case that involves children identified as minors, it’s crucial to determine how much support needs to be provided to give those children an on-going, and undisrupted lifestyle following a divorce or separation of parents. Child support is often a very complicated issue within divorce cases, and I often remind my clients that the courts of New York must examine a number of crucial factors before determining how much should reasonably be awarded.
Generally, the guideline amount of child support is determined by the parent’s income. There are a number of factors upon which a deviation from the guideline amount of child support can be based, including, but not limited to:
- The non-custodial parent’s financial abilities
- The custodial parent’s earning capacity: Both parents have a duty to support their children, thus the earnings of the custodial parent must also be considered.
- Other factors that a court might deem appropriate.
Here, we’ll examine the difficulties that can become present during a child support case when it comes to considering combined income in excess of $143,000.00 (the initial cap in 2017, when this blog was written on child support), and the ultimate financial abilities of the paying spouse. In determining parental income, the courts of New York adhere to the Child Supports Standard Act, starting with an evaluation of parent’s “gross” income. Often, this income is evaluated according to the numbers on that individual’s most recent income tax return. Once that gross amount has been considered, the court continues to evaluate potential other compensation including, but not limited to voluntarily deferred, or additional income.
In some cases, a support magistrate will have the right to impute income for a party based on their potential for future earning, and other reasons such as “perks” or resources that the party may have access too, such as automobiles through employment or other people paying their expenses. However, though support magistrates are frequently offered a considerable amount of discretion when it comes to deciding whether or not a parent should be imputed, a determination to actually impute income requires a significant reason to be provided for such actions. Any determination to impute income, in other words, will be rejected by the courts when the amount that has been imputed cannot be supported by the record. Also, whether to order a person to pay child support on the combined parental income in excess of the initial cap is a matter of discretion but the reasons to do so, if it is ordered, must be property articulated. Your child support lawyer can present reasons for or against such an order.
In the case of Peddycoart v. MacKay, 145 A.D.3d 1081 (2d Dept. 2016), the support magistrate examined and determined the income of the father (the payor), for the purpose of outlining child support requirements. In examining the income of the father, the magistrate used the father’s federal income tax return to outline the income that he had received from employment, and also included concerns like monthly rental income. Additionally, the court imputed income for the father based on a testimony that the corporation the father worked for paid for his personal expenses and automobile.
However, it was later found that the support magistrate had erred in using the statutory percentage to the combined parental income, which measured at over $141,000 (which was the initial threshold cap in place at the relevant time period of the case). The reason for this was that the magistrate did not consider the monthly expenses and debts that were met by the father, and the other types of support that the father offered to the subject child. Additionally, consideration was not given to the expenses incurred by the father in respect to his second child. Following the realization of this error, the courts moved to adapt the father’s obligation for child support, reducing it from $542 per week, down to $378 per week.
As I mentioned above, child support can be a complex issue for even the courts to figure out, though regulations are in place. The Child Support Standards Act, for example, currently sets forward a formula that can be used to help in calculating child support. This formula works by adding a specific statutory percentage to the mix, which is based upon a consideration of the number of children that need to be supported. When this percentage is applied to the combined income of both parents, the percentages are calculated up to the initial combined income cap. However, when the combined income of both parents exceeds this cap, the court will have the discretion to adapt and apply the factors that are set forward in Family Ct Act and Domestic Relations Law and may decide whether or not to apply the statutory percentages to the income in excess of the initial cap.
When statutory percentages and other situations are applied to a consideration of child support, the Supreme Court or family court must articulate a reasonable explanation of it’s reasoning for calculating child support in a specific manner, based on the parental income that exceeded the statutory cap. Importantly, the articulation must reflect an examination of the basis for why the court exercised its discretion, alongside an evaluation of the parties’ circumstances, and why there should or shouldn’t be child support in excess of the first $143,000.00 (the 2017 cap of combined parental income).
Additionally, alongside providing an explanation for choosing whether or not to deviate from the formula in place, courts must relate their articulations to the factors that are outlined in Family Ct Act 413 subparagraph f or the corresponding Domestic Relations Law section also know as the Child Support Standards Act. These factors will include a consideration of the resources that are available to both the noncustodial and custodial parents, as well as the standard of living that the child would have enjoyed if the parents stayed together. These factors can help to further the objectives that are surrounded by the Child Support Standards Act, which also include the complete income that is available to the parents, and other relevant factors.
To learn more about the complications of child support and the factors that go into determining award amounts, or to discuss your own family law case, please feel free to contact me, Mr. Darren M. Shapiro. You can call on 516-333-6555 to schedule your free initial half-hour consultation, or fill out our available online form.