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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

First Department Affirms Award of Costs of Higher Education, Including College, for 7 Year Old Child Because it Appeared to Be an Inevitable Expense for this Child

In Klauer v Abeliovich,  --- N.Y.S.3d ----, 2017 WL 1450277, 2017 N.Y. Slip Op. 03110 (1st Dept., 2017) the parties were married in December 2008 and there was one child of the marriage, born in 2010.

The Appellate Division held that Supreme Court correctly rejected the Referee’s recommendation as to basic child support when it determined that in setting the basic child support obligation the parties’ combined income above the $141,000 statutory cap should be taken into consideration (Domestic Relations Law § 240[1–b][f] ). In deciding to utilize the parties’ combined income up to $800,000 in setting support, the court examined whether the capped support “adequately reflects a support level that meets the needs and continuation of the child[’s] lifestyle” and concluded that it did not (Beroza v. Hendler, 109 AD3d 498, 500–501 [2d Dept 2013] ).

The Appellate Division  held that Supreme Court, under the circumstances, providently exercised its discretion in ordering that the husband pay 20% of the child’s educational expenses, including college, until the child attains age 21 (see Cimons v. Cimons, 53 AD3d 125, 131 [2d Dept 2008] ). The court took into consideration several factors, including the high educational achievements of both parties and their professions. Plaintiff, a financial analyst, has a B.A. from Georgetown and an MBA from Columbia Business School; she also holds series 3 and 7 licenses. Defendant, an associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical School, has a B.A. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a M.D./Ph.D. from Harvard. During the marriage the parties agreed the child would be privately educated and their enrollment of the child in a private nursery school when he was only nine months old reflects their agreement. There was no indication that defendant could not afford to pay his share of private school tuition, and his argument that the child was too young for the court to have addressed higher education issues does not warrant modification of Supreme Court’s order. There was no reason to delay resolution of the issue of higher education, including college, because it appeared to be an inevitable expense for this child, given the parties’ apparent commitment to an enriched education, the parties’ means and their high level of educational achievements. It affirmed the award because it was not an improvident exercise of the court’s discretion.

The Appellate Division held that absent an agreement to the contrary, or without engaging in a proper analysis under the paragraph “(f)” factors of the Domestic Relations Law, the court should not have ordered defendant to pay for summer and/or extracurricular activities (Domestic Relations Law § 240[1–b][f]; Michael J.D., 138 AD3d at 154). Unlike health care and child care expenses, these “add-on” expenses are not separately enumerated under the CSSA and it is usually anticipated that they will be paid from the basic child support award ordered by the court. Furthermore, without explaining why, Supreme Court allocated these add-ons in the same manner it allocated educational expenses (i.e. 20% to defendant as opposed to 10.5%). Because the court made its determination before the Court’s decision in Michael J.D., where it  clarified how these add-ons should be analyzed and separately justified under paragraph (f), it  remitted to Supreme Court the issue of how summer and/or any other extracurricular activities not specifically agreed to by the parties will be allocated between them, if at all.

The Appellate Division modified to eliminate the award of the separate property credit to plaintiff in the amount of $350,000 and otherwise affirm Supreme Court’s denial of any further separate property credit to plaintiff in the amount of $932,000 for payments toward the principal and/or renovation costs of their Fifth Avenue coop. It held that Plaintiff was not entitled to a separate property credit for the $350,000 downpayment or the additional sum of $932,000 the parties applied towards the purchase price of the Fifth Avenue coop. The conveyance of separate funds under these circumstances resulted in the separate assets becoming presumptively marital and partial use of separate funds to acquire a marital asset does not mandate that plaintiff be credited for any separate funds she committed (see Fields, 15 NY3d at 167).

The Appellate Division held that the court  correctly determined that plaintiff’s bonus, although paid after the action was commenced, was compensation for her past performance, not tied to future performance (see DeJesus v. DeJesus, 90 N.Y.2d 643, 652 [1997] ). As a general rule, bonuses paid as compensation for past services are marital property and subject to equitable distribution (see Ropiecki v. Ropiecki, 94 AD3d 734, 736 [2d Dept 2012] ). The court properly prorated the bonus to reflect that although it was paid for the 2011 calendar year, the parties separated in May 2011, meaning only 40% of the total amount could be considered marital.

 The Appellate Division held that while it was a provident exercise of the court’s discretion to permit plaintiff to make payments to defendant of his distributive share of the marital assets in installments, post-decision interest is mandatory on the distributive award pursuant to CPLR 5002, and should be awarded (see Moyal v. Moyal, 85 AD3d 614, 615 [1st Dept 2011] ).

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