Ruling not imputing income to mother for child support upheld on appeal

Under New York law, if parents voluntarily reduce their income in order to lessen or avoid a child support obligation, the court may “impute” additional income to the parent based on their prior income or resources. In the case of Smith v. Smith, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, upheld a ruling that refused to impute income to the mother. The Appellate Division also modified the amount of the child support award, finding that the trial court’s decision to reduce the mother’s child support obligation deviated too far below the amount established by the state’s child support guidelines.

BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The parties were married in 1996 and had three children together. A 2009 divorce decree gave joint legal custody to both parents, with the primary residence for the children to be with the father, but designated the father as the “noncustodial parent” on the basis of his higher income, and ordered him to pay child support.

That ruling was reversed on appeal. The appeals court determined that the father was the custodial parent and should not have been ordered to pay child support. The case was sent back to the trial court to determine the amount of child support payable by the mother.

The trial court calculated the mother’s child support obligation under state guidelines at $258.33 weekly, but decided that it would be “just and appropriate” to reduce the amount to $30 weekly.

The father appealed the Family Court’s decision to the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division.

THE DECISION BY THE NEW YORK SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE DIVISION

The father challenged the Supreme Court’s computation of the mother’s child support obligation on several grounds. The Appellate Division rejected the father’s argument that the Supreme Court should have imputed additional income to the mother based on prior earnings in 2009 of approximately $70,000 when she was employed as an echocardiogram technician at a nearby hospital. The mother’s employment was terminated in 2011. Although some evidence indicated that the mother’s alcoholism may have been a factor in her termination, the former employer’s stated reason for the termination was “downsizing” in her department. In 2012, the mother found comparable employment at another hospital earning $55,000 annually after conducting a job search within her field. Evidence indicated that the lower salary was because of limited opportunities in this field due to downsizing.

The Appellate Division also concluded that the Supreme Court was correct in its decision to deviate from the “presumptive” amount of child support specified under the guidelines. The father’s income was double that of the mother. The Appellate Division noted that the income disparity was sufficient grounds, alone, to support a deviation from the guidelines. The father was also benefited from considerable tax deductions and credits for the children. The mother did not. The mother was also responsible for a large portion of the child-care expenses, health-care costs for the children that were not covered by insurance, and other expenses incurred while exercising parenting time. She purchased a residence within the children’s school district to further the custody arrangement. This resulted in additional costs because the mother now had a long commute to work. However, the Appellate Division decided that the reduction to $30 per week was excessive and modified the mother’s support obligation to $150 per week.

CONSULT AN ATTORNEY

Those who encounter issues regarding divorce, child support or other domestic relations matters should contact a competent attorney, experienced in such matters for the protection of their legal rights.

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