When Should All Income Be Considered in a New York Child Support Calculation?

In New York, child support has a basic component, as well as an added component. The basic support is calculated first by looking at the initial $143,000(known as a “cap” which is current as of 2016) of combined annual parental income. The amount of the cap is adjusted every other year. Income includes gross total income, investment income, and various benefits, such as workers’ compensation, unemployment, or retirement benefits. After adding your income with your co-parent’s income, the court multiplies the total by a percentage per child, which is 17% of the combined parental income for one child, 25% for 29% for three, 31% for four or more, and no less than 35% for five or more children.  The non-custodial parent pays their percentage share of this amount (pro-rata share).  If your combined income with your co-parent is greater than this $143,000 cap, the court may look at whether there should be additional support for the amount of combined income that exceeds $143,000.

However, if you and your co-parent’s combined income is more than $143,000, you can get additional child support beyond what that cap allows if you can establish certain factors known as “paragraph f” factors. The court can use the same formula of taking 17% or the appropriate percentage, or it may make adjustments to the amount of the add-on according to its analysis of the factors.

These factors include the financial resources of you and the other parent and child, the health of the child and any special needs or aptitudes (like learning disabilities), tax consequences, educational needs of one or both of the parents, the standard of living the children would have enjoyed had the parents stayed together, a determination that one parent’s gross income is substantially less than the other’s, any needs of other children for whom a non-custodial parent is providing support, extraordinary expenses like international travel, and other relevant factors. For example, DRL § 240 (1-b)(c)(4) provides that if a custodial parent is either working or going to school in order to be able to work and incurs child care expenses as a result of this, the court can determine reasonable child care expenses to be prorated in the same proportion as each parent’s income is to the combined income. The pro rata share of the child care expenses are separately stated and added to the basic child support as an add-on.

In Michael JD v. Caroline EP, an appellate court considered whether the lower court had properly directed that the plaintiff-father pay more than basic child support in the form of private school tuition and extracurricular, weekend, and summer activities. The court explained that the CSSA, codified in the Domestic Relations Law § 240(1-b) and the Family Court Act § 413, has precise requirements that a court is supposed to follow in determining whether any additional costs should be paid above and beyond basic child support.

The add-on expenses that the CSSA explicitly permits include child care when a parent is working or going to school, health insurance and medical expenses, and educational expenses. However, expenses like extracurricular, weekend, or summer expenses aren’t expressly stated in the statute. Leisure expenses like these are assumed to be within the basic child support award. In order to deviate and require a parent to pay for these expenses, the lower court has to conduct an analysis of the enumerated paragraph f factors. The court is supposed to articulate an analysis of how these factors influenced its decision.

The appellate court reasoned that in this case, the parents weren’t married and weren’t living together at the time of the child’s birth, although they did move into his apartment for four months once the father knew the son existed. They expected that their child would go to private school. The mother and child voluntarily moved out when the child was eight months. At trial, the mother testified that the father told her he wanted the child to go to private school and had enrolled him in private swimming lessons. However, when they separated, the lessons stopped.

The trial court had determined that for child support purposes, the father’s adjusted gross income was $128,741.40. This didn’t quite hit the cap. The mother had claimed the father had undisclosed income, but the lower court didn’t find evidence of this. It assumed that the mother’s income was $0 and that the combined income was therefore $128,741.40 and that the child support obligation would be 17% of that amount, or $1,823.84 per year payable from the father to the mother.

The trial court also ordered the father to contribute 100% of the child’s private school tuition as an add-on expense. The appellate court explained that the court could direct a parent to contribute to educational expenses after considering the circumstances, the children’s best interests, and the requirements of justice. In this case, the trial court didn’t explain why it ordered the father to pay for private school, given that the plaintiff’s income was not at a sufficiently high level to require private school for the child.

Similarly, the trial court had not explained why the other expenses should be add-ons. In order to add the additional expenses to basic child support, the trial court needed to explain why a deviation was appropriate.

If you and your co-parent have a high combined income, you should consult a New York attorney about child support. Contact the Law and Mediation Office of Darren M. Shapiro at 516-333-6555 or via our online form. Our principal Darren Shapiro is an experienced, compassionate family law attorney and mediator.

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