Divorce Mediation Blog

A Child Support Puzzlah: Martin v. Martin Part 1

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The May 13, 2015 "unreported" decision of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, Martin v. Martin, has us scratching our head: it is a Puzzlah, as Tom & Ray used to say.

As always, this Rule 1:28 decision is sparse on facts, but they may be summarized as follows:

  1. In 2009, the husband/father agreed by stipulation/divorce judgment to pay 50% of all of his gross pre-tax income, including salary increases and bonuses, as child support; and that, at no time, would his total annual payment be less than that provided for in the Child Support Guidelines for the parties' (2) unemancipated children.
  2. In 2012, the parties settled the parenting aspects of a complaint for modification, which increased the father's parenting time from about 33% to "up to forty percent of the time".
  3. The parties asked the trial judge to decide whether or not the father should be ordered to pay child support on "joint income over $250,000" (joint with whom?).
  4. The trial court held a "non-evidentiary hearing" (in some form or other), and then ordered the father to pay "additional support in accordance with a calculation dependent on the gross incomes of the parties". The Appeals Court did not set out the Probate judge's actual formula.
  5. The Appeals Court vacated the child support orders on income above $250,000 in the modification judgment because it was "... unsupported by findings that the children are in need of additional support."

Since the fuller facts were not reported, some of our questions may be answered in the actual record, but still, we wonder:

  1. Why did the mother join in asking the judge if there should be support on income over $250,000, when she was entitled to it already under the reported terms of the divorce judgment (#3 above)?
  2. Aren’t modifications supposed to bear some rational relation to the change of circumstances found? The guy had increased his overnights by about 26 per year (from .33 to .40 of 365 nights). What has that got to do with whether or not income above $250,000 is fair?
  3. Was the Appeals Court trying to save this guy from himself, at least in part? At divorce, the father agreed to pay more that half of his net-after-tax income (assuming that he pays taxes!), without any cap or other known relief, in a self-executing formula. Did the appellate panel take pity on a poor soul and give him another bite at the apple, in hopes that the trial court might think better of its order and reduce or eliminate the upper tier(s) of support?
  4. Even if the part above $250,000 were to be cured on remand, what of the 50% order below?
  5. Did anyone ask why an order so blatantly beyond the 2009 Child Support Guidelines was deemed fair and reasonable by the divorce judge?

Maybe, a reported decision would have provided the answers to all of these curiosities. But, we’ll get to that in the next entry.

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