«CHILD AND SPOUSAL SUPPORT [REVISED 2012] ABOUT CJER The California Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER), as the Education Division of ...»
D. Departing From Guideline Formula 1. [§201.45] Bases for Departing From Formula Courts are required to adhere to the guideline formula and may depart from it only in the special circumstances specified in the guideline. Fam C § 4052; Marriage of LaBass & Munsee (1997) 56 CA4th 1331, 1336, 66 CR2d 393. The presumption that the guideline formula amount, computed under Fam C §4055, is the correct amount of child support may only be rebutted by admissible evidence showing that the application of the formula would be unjust or inappropriate in the particular case, consistent with the principles set forth in Fam C §4053, because one or more of five specified factors (discussed below in sections §§201.46–201.52) is found to be applicable by a preponderance of the evidence. Fam C §4057(b).
a. [§201.46] Stipulated Support The court may approve a stipulation by the parties for an amount of child support that differs from the presumed guideline amount. Fam C §4057(b)(1). See §201.58 for discussion of the required contents of a stipulated agreement for child support below the guideline formula.
b. [§201.47] Deferred Sale of Home Order The court may adjust a presumed child support figure if sale of the family home in which the children reside has been deferred by court order and its rental value exceeds the mortgage payments, homeowner’s insurance, and property taxes. The amount of any adjustment that you make, however, cannot exceed the difference between the rental value and the mortgage, insurance, and taxes. Fam C §4057(b)(2). See Marriage of Braud (1996) 45 CA4th 797, 818–819, 53 CR2d 179.
JUDICIAL TIP: Award of the family home is known as a “Duke” award from the leading case of Marriage of Duke (1980) 101 CA3d 152, 161 CR 444, and is considered a child support award because it is made to the custodial parent to minimize the adverse impact of dissolution or legal separation on the child’s welfare.
On a practical note, some judges observe that Duke orders have become more rare.
§201.48 California Judges Benchguide 201–38 c. [§201.48] Extraordinarily High Income Payor The court may adjust a presumed child support figure if the parent being ordered to pay child support has an extraordinarily high income and the formula amount would exceed the children’s needs. Fam C §4057(b)(3).
What constitutes reasonable needs for a child will vary with the parties’ circumstances, but the duty to support a child covers more than the mere necessities of life if the parent can afford to pay more. Johnson v Superior Court (1998) 66 CA4th 68, 71, 77 CR2d 624; Marriage of Chandler (1997) 60 CA4th 124, 129, 70 CR2d 109. If the supporting parent enjoys a lifestyle that far exceeds that of the custodial parent, child support must reflect, to some degree, the supporting parent’s more opulent lifestyle, even though this may, as a practical matter, produce a benefit for the custodial parent. Johnson v Superior Court, supra, 66 CA4th at 71.
On an extraordinarily high earner’s obligation to disclose evidence of his or her income, see §201.17.
(1) [§201.49] “Extraordinarily High Income” Not Defined Family Code §4057(b)(3) provides no guidance for determining what is “extraordinarily high income.” Many courts take into account the wealth of the high-earner parent in relation to the community at large, and the relative wealth of their counties in making their determination. See Marriage of Cheriton (2001) 92 CA4th 269, 297, 111 CR2d 755. In some cases, a parent’s income may be so high as to be considered “extraordinarily high” by any objective standard.
(2) [§201.50] High Earner’s Burden of Proof in Rebutting Formula Amount The parent who invokes the high-income exception must prove that (Marriage of Hubner (2001) 94 CA4th 175, 183, 114 CR2d 646):
• Application of the formula would be unjust or inappropriate, and
• A lower award would be consistent with the child’s best interest.
d. [§201.51] Disparity Between Support and Custodial Time The court may adjust a presumed child support figure when a parent is not contributing to the children’s needs at a level commensurate with his or her custodial time. Fam C §4057(b)(4). The effect of this subsection is to allow the payor parent to claim that the custodial parent is not appropriately spending the support money on the children.
201–39 Child Support and Spousal Support §201.52 JUDICIAL TIP: This is a “slippery slope” ripe for abuse. The payor parent with a smaller time-share sometimes wants to pay the children directly or provide “in-kind” payments of support such as clothing. “In-kind” payments are not allowed without a court order. If the court orders such payments, the order must be very specific about what “in-kind” payments are allowed.
e. [§201.52] Special Circumstances Render Formula Unjust or Inappropriate The court may adjust a presumed child support figure in a case in which application of the formula would be unjust or inappropriate due to special circumstances. Fam C §4057(b)(5). These special circumstances
may include cases where (Fam C §4057(b)(5)(A)–(C)):
• The parents have different time-sharing arrangements for different children.
• Both parents have substantially equal time-sharing of the children but one parent has a much lower or higher percentage of income used for housing than the other parent.
• The children have special medical or other needs that could require child support that would be greater than the formula amount.
Because Fam C §4057(b)(5) uses the words “include, but are not limited to” instead of listing all of the special circumstances in which the guideline amount would be inappropriate, the courts have very broad discretion in determining when special circumstances might justify a departure from the formula. Marriage of de Guigne (2002) 97 CA4th 1353, 1361, 119 CR2d 430. The following have been found to be special
• Substantial wealth. 97 CA4th at 1361–1366 (trial court did not abuse discretion in setting support amount that was three times the guideline amount; inappropriate to base support on husband’s relatively meager investment income alone, given his extensive property holdings). See also Mejia v Reed (2003) 31 C4th 657, 671, 3 CR3d 390 (court may deem assets to be a “special circumstance”).
• Low income. City & County of San Francisco v Miller (1996) 49 CA4th 866, 869, 56 CR2d 887 (trial court did not abuse discretion in reducing father’s child support amount to zero; even after lowincome adjustment provided in Fam C §4055(b)(7), father would be left with $14 a month to live on after paying guideline support and rent); See also Marriage of Butler & Gill (1997) 53 CA4th §201.52 California Judges Benchguide 201–40 462, 467–469, 61 CR2d 781 (parent must have “acute difficulty” in providing full guideline level of support);.
• High consumer debt. County of Lake v Antoni (1993) 18 CA4th 1102, 1105–1106, 22 CR2d 804 (trial court did not abuse discretion in lowering support amount when father had accumulated high amount of consumer debt incurred in supporting another son and a stepdaughter over a nine-year period). See also County of Stanislaus v Gibbs (1997) 59 CA4th 1417, 1425–1427, 69 CR2d 819 (trial court erred in reducing support based on father’s high consumer debt when father failed to provide evidence that the debt was incurred for the purpose of “living needs,” such as clothing and household items, and when, after considering household income including income of his new wife, it was clear that the husband was not in a “financial bind”).
• Support of stepchildren. County of Lake v Antoni, supra (trial court did not abuse its discretion in considering the support of a stepchild as one factor in ordering a reduced level of support. But see Haggard v Haggard (1995) 38 CA4th 1566, 1571–1572, 45 CR2d 638 (court held that under the particular facts, support of nonadopted stepchildren improperly considered as basis for reduced support, but noted that the provisions in Antoni appear to allow a variance from the guideline in recognition of a parent’s support of children of a new marriage who otherwise would be without support; court also stated that in absence of adoption, the parent’s principal obligation must be to the children of his or her former marriage).
• Adult child attending college. Edwards v Edwards (2008) 162 CA4th 136, 138, 75 CR3d 458 (the guideline formula is inapplicable to an adult child attending college. When neither parent retains “primary physical responsibility” (under Fam C §4055(b)(1)(D)) for the adult child for any percentage of the time, application of the guideline formula “would be unjust or inappropriate” (under Fam C §4057(b)(5)) because physical responsibility for the child is a component of the guideline formula.
A court may consider a new spouse’s income as a “special circumstance” only when not considering it will result in extreme hardship to the child. Marriage of Wood (1995) 37 CA4th 1059, 1069, 44 CR2d 236, disapproved on other grounds in 39 C4th 179, 187 (general discretion afforded by Fam C §4057(b) cannot entirely circumvent statutory prohibition on consideration of new spouse’s income under Fam C §4057.5).
201–41 Child Support and Spousal Support §201.53 The following have not been found to be special circumstances that
warrant deviation from support guideline amounts:
• The fact that the supporting parent would need to curtail his or her discretionary expenses in order to pay the guideline. Marriage of C. (1997) 57 CA4th 1100, 1106–1107, 67 CR2d 508 (“modest” reduction in supporting parent’s standard of living is not “special circumstance” warranting departure from guideline).
• Income that the Legislature has excluded from consideration in determining child support, e.g., spousal support paid by one parent to the other. Marriage of Corman (1997) 59 CA4th 1492, 1501, 69 CR2d 880.
In a “move-away” situation, the court has discretion to facilitate visitation by allowing the noncustodial parent to deduct an amount from the statutory guideline and to set that amount aside for the creation of a travel fund. Wilson v Shea (2001) 87 CA4th 887, 893–898, 104 CR2d 880.
See Marriage of Burgess (1996) 13 C4th 25, 40, 51 CR2d 444 (in “moveaway” situation, court has broad discretion to allocate transportation expenses to custodial parent or to require that parent to provide for the transportation of the children to the noncustodial parent’s home). See §201.55 (travel expenses for visitation as discretionary “add-on”).
2. [§201.53] Mandatory Findings When Support Order Varies From Guidelines When a court orders an amount for child support that differs from the guideline formula amount, the court must state the following information
in writing or on the record (Fam C §§4056(a), 4057(b)):
• The amount of support that would have been ordered under the guideline formula.
• The reasons the amount of support ordered differs from the guideline formula amount.
• The reasons the amount of support ordered is consistent with the children’s best interests.
This information must be included as part of the order or judgment.
Marriage of Hall (2000) 81 CA4th 313, 316, 96 CR2d 772.
Failure to make the mandatory findings precludes effective appellate review and may constitute reversible error if the missing information cannot otherwise be discerned from the record. Marriage of Hubner (2001) 94 CA4th 175, 184, 114 CR2d 646; Marriage of Hall, supra, 81 CA4th at 315 (statute is clear that court cannot exercise its discretion in making child support order that departs from guideline formula without saying why, either in writing or on the record); Rojas v Mitchell (1996) 50 §201.54 California Judges Benchguide 201–42 CA4th 1445, 1450 n4, 58 CR2d 354 (term “information,” as used in Fam C §4056(a), requires both findings and a statement of reasons for the ultimate decision). The findings must be made whether the amount is higher or lower than the guideline amount. Marriage of Laudeman (2001) 92 CA4th 1009, 1014, 112 CR2d 378.