Child Support Cap Raised from $130,000 to $136,000
The "combined parental income amount" to be utilized in calculating child support orders has increased from $130,000 to $136,000 effective January 31, 2012. (See Child Support Worksheet (Form UD-8) revised January 2012). The amount of the "combined parental income" is established by Domestic Relations Law § 240 (1-b) (2) as the amount set forth in Social Services Law § 111-I (2) (b). Domestic Relations Law § 240 (1-b) (2) provides that the amount established shall be multiplied by the appropriate child support percentage and such amount shall be prorated in the same proportion as each parent's income is to the combined parental income. Social Services Law § 111-I (2)(b) provides that the $130,000 cap is increased automatically on January 31, 2012 and on January 31 every two years thereafter by the product of the average annual percentage changes in the consumer price index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) as published by the United States department of labor bureau of labor statistics for the two year period rounded to the nearest one thousand dollars. (See Bureau of Labor Statistics for its publications at http://www.bls.gov)
First Department Holds That Double Dipping Is Not Allowed Under Temporary Maintenance Guidelines
In Khaira v Khaira, --- N.Y.S.2d ----, 2012 WL 371997 (N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept.) the Appellate Division, in an opinion by Justice Saxe, considered the guidelines for awards of temporary spousal maintenance under Domestic Relations Law 236 (B)(5-a), particularly with regard to the circumstances in which the court may deviate from the guideline amount derived by formula (the presumptive award), and the procedures that must be undertaken to do so. The parties married on July 8, 2006. They had two sons, and the wife had a son from a previous marriage. In September of 2010, the husband voluntarily moved out of the marital residence, and in October 2010, the wife commenced the divorce proceeding. She moved for pendente lite support, asking for monthly maintenance of $11,500 and child support of $7,290, and a direction that the husband directly pay the carrying costs on the marital residence, child care expenses, and all health care expenses for the family.
The court observed that to determine temporary maintenance, the motion court had to apply Domestic Relations Law 236(B)(5-a), which had become effective on October 12, 2010. The court determined the presumptive award to be $11,500 per month, awarded the wife $13,870 in unallocated spousal and child support, tax deductible to the husband, and required the husband to directly pay to the lender the monthly mortgage payments on the marital residence in which the wife and the children continue to reside, and the health care insurance premiums and unreimbursed health care expenses for the family, including his stepson. It also directed the husband to pay the wife interim counsel fees of $42,000.
On appeal, the husband contended that the motion court awarded the wife an excessive sum because it failed to consider his actual, documented net monthly income and cash flow, and incorrectly calculated his annual income by including non-recurring earnings such as a one-time bonus, and illiquid, noncash equity compensation. He challenged the counsel fee award on the ground that the wife's mother guaranteed her counsel fee obligation, and counsel has been paid in full to date. He also challenged the directive that he pay the health care expenses of his stepson.
Justice Saxe observed that Domestic Relations Law 236(B)(5-a) reflects a substantial change in the Legislature's approach to temporary maintenance. The previous spousal maintenance provision gave the court great leeway, directing only in general terms that it order maintenance"in such amount as justice requires," considering the parties' standard of living during the marriage, the reasonable needs of the non-monied spouse and the monied spouse's ability to pay, and with regard to a list of factors such as the parties' respective earning capacities (former DRL 236[B] ). Courts applying that provision observed that pendente lite maintenance was awarded to "tide over the more needy party, not to determine the correct ultimate distribution and to ensure that a needy spouse is provided with funds for his or her support and reasonable needs" The new provision, rather than aiming merely to "tide over" the non-monied spouse, creates a substantial presumptive entitlement. He noted that the motion court properly followed the initial procedures. It applied the $500,000 cap to the husband's income, and using $60,000 as the wife's income, based on the monthly payments she acknowledged receiving from her parents, performed the two calculations: for the first, it subtracted 20% of $60,000 ($12,000) from 30% of $500,000 ($150,000), arriving at $138,000; for the second, it calculated 40% of $560,000 ($224,000), then deducted $60,000, arriving at $164,000. It properly treated the lesser of these two calculations, $138,000, as the guideline amount. At that point, the court observed that the parties' 2008 joint income tax return reflected an adjusted gross income of $851,549, almost all from the husband's earnings at the investment firm the Blackstone Group, and that their 2009 tax return reflected an adjusted gross income of $1,063,426, also almost entirely from the husband's employment. However, it did not then proceed to explicitly discuss whether an additional amount of maintenance was warranted from the portion of the husband's income that exceeded the $500,000 cap, as required by 236(B)(5-a)(c)(2). Instead, the court next examined the wife's submitted monthly expense budget of approximately $21,267 and concluded that with the exception of claims for $1,000 for gifts and $225 for charitable contributions, the remainder ($20,041), which included $4,125 for the cost of a nanny, represented the wife's and the children's reasonable needs. In essence, the court simply ruled that the husband should pay the full amount of the wife's and the children's claimed needs, partly through his payment of the mortgage on the marital residence ($5,317) and the family's health care premiums and unreimbursed medical expenses ($855), and partly through monthly payments to the wife of $13,870. In other words, the court awarded the wife $20,041 in unallocated spousal and child support without setting out a calculation of appropriate child support and without discussing or even mentioning the factors in Domestic Relations Law 236[B][5-a][c] ).
In considering the husband's challenge to the award, the Court rejected his suggestion that his support obligation should have been calculated based solely on his base pay, without reference to his bonus, or that the court should have taken into consideration his net pay. The statute instructs the court to base the calculations on the payor's gross income as reported in his federal income tax return, and the motion court properly did exactly that, correctly treating the husband's bonuses as income and ignoring his reliance on his net income (which can be manipulated with deductions and deferred compensation). However, the motion court did not strictly comply with the requisites of Domestic Relations Law 236 (B)(5-a).
Justice Saxe observed that no language in either the new temporary maintenance provision or the CSSA specifically addresses whether the statutory formulas are intended to include the portion of the carrying costs of their residence attributable to the non-monied spouse and the children. The new law "does not factor in child support issues or payment of household expenses. In the absence of a specific reference to the carrying charges for the marital residence, the Court considered it reasonable and logical to view the formula adopted by the new maintenance provision as covering all the spouse's basic living expenses, including housing costs as well as the costs of food and clothing and other usual expenses. The Court believed that the new approach of calculating spousal support payments to the non-monied spouse by means of a formula is intended to arrive at the amount that will cover all the payee's presumptive reasonable expenses. By calculating the guideline amount and then simply adding the direct mortgage payment on top of that, the motion court awarded more than the amount reached by the formula, without providing the required explanation.
Justice Saxe indicated that it is possible that directing payment above and beyond the guideline amount may be appropriate in certain situations. For instance, the direct mortgage payment might be justifiable as additional support when the payor's income exceeds $500,000 and the applicable factors listed in Domestic Relations Law 236 (B)(5-a)(c)(2)(a) are taken into account; or, depending on the size of the mortgage payment, perhaps only part of it should be treated as the payee's housing costs, and the remainder should be treated as the upkeep of a marital investment. He suggested that perhaps there are other reasons why the guideline amount is unjust or inappropriate. "It may well be that in this case, consideration of the enumerated factors, such as the stark difference in the parties' current earning capacities, their standard of living during the marriage, and the need to pay for day care, would justify the motion court's direction that the husband pay as additional maintenance a specified portion of his income beyond the $500,000 cap."
Because the statute expressly requires the court to both make and explain that determination (DRL 236[B][5-a][c][b] ), the Appellate Division could not permit the award to remain as it stood. While the ultimate support award may well be appropriate, it must be appropriately supported and explained. The Court therefore modified so as to vacate the support award and remanded the matter for a reconsideration of the award in light of the directives of Domestic Relations Law 236(B)(5-a). It also vacated the portion of the order that placed responsibility on the husband for his stepson's health care insurance and unreimbursed health care expenses. There was no allegation that the stepson was a recipient of public assistance or that he was in danger of becoming a public charge, and no other legal rationale for imposing that obligation on the husband.
The Court upheld the award of counsel fees to the wife as the "less monied spouse" (Domestic Relations Law 237[a] ). Justice Saxe observed that the statute provides that "[p]ayment of any retainer fees to the attorney for the petitioning party shall not preclude any awards of fees and expenses to an applicant which would otherwise be allowed under this section"; the husband's argument that no award of fees was appropriate because the wife's mother paid her attorney's retainer fee failed to rebut the presumption in favor of the award.
Counsel for the spouse paying temporary maintenance should request, in his opposing papers, that the temporary maintenance order contain a provision directed the spouse who is awarded temporary maintenance to pay the "carrying costs of the marital residence" . Without such a direction, the spouse receiving the temporary maintenance award will not be under any court ordered obligation to pay those expenses, even though the temporary maintenance award includes sums for their payment, and the credit rating of the payyor spouse may suffer or the mortgage may go into foreclosure..
Counsel for a spouse seeking temporary maintenance should to make sure, in preparing an application for temporary support, that the "presumptive award" will be enough to permit his client to pay the "carrying costs of the marital residence." The application for temporary maintenance should ask the court to specify what items are considered "carrying costs of the marital residence".