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Monday, October 20, 2008

Fourth Department Holds Credit For College Expenses Not Mandatory

In Pistilli v Pistilli, --- N.Y.S.2d ----, 2008 WL 2713989 (N.Y.A.D. 4 Dept.) following the entry of a judgment that, inter alia, granted plaintiff a divorce, plaintiff moved to modify the judgment by "[d]istributing the actual and anticipated college education costs associated with the parties' children," specifically the parties' daughter, between the parties. Defendant cross-moved for an order directing that he pay 60% of the college education expenses of the parties' daughter and reducing his child support obligation accordingly. Defendant appealed from an order requiring him to pay 80% of the daughter's college expenses based on Supreme Court's determination that defendant "shall contribute to college costs 'in accordance with his percentage' " of the parties' combined parental income and denying his cross motion seeking a reduction in his child support obligation. Pursuant to an oral stipulation of the parties that was incorporated but not merged into the judgment of divorce, the parties "agreed to contribute to [their children's college expenses] as they are then financially able." The Appellate Division held that the court erred in failing to consider defendant's maintenance obligation in calculating the percentage of defendant's contribution to the daughter's college expenses. After subtracting from defendant's income the amount of taxable maintenance paid to plaintiff as indicated on the parties' respective 2005 tax returns, which were used by the court in determining the parties' respective incomes, it concluded that defendant's percentage of the combined parental income was 64% rather than 80%, and thus defendant's pro rata share of the daughter's college expenses was reduced from 80% to 64%. It rejected defendant’s contention that the court erred in determining that he was entitled to a credit against his child support obligation only in the amount of his pro rata share of the daughter's college meal plan. It held that a credit against child support for college expenses is not mandatory but depends upon the facts and circumstances in the particular case, taking into account the needs of the custodial parent to maintain a household and provide certain necessaries. Because plaintiff had to maintain a household for the daughter during the daughter's school breaks and weekend visits, it could not be said that defendant was entitled to a credit for the daughter's rooming expenses. Nevertheless, inasmuch as we it reduced defendant's pro rata share of the daughter's college expenses from 80% to 64%, defendant's child support credit based on the college meal plan had to reflect that reduction and it modified the order accordingly.

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