Child Support

Child Support Payments Suspended During Period of Medical Disability

In the child support case of Gennock v. Gennock, PICS Case No 14-1345 (C.P. Lawrence, August 14, 2014) the Honorable John W. Hodge ruled in the appeal from the suspension of defendant’s child-support obligation, that the trial court had not abused its discretion in finding that defendant did not possess an earning capacity or in suspending his support obligation to give him the opportunity to complete medical treatment and overcome his difficulties.  The plaintiff’s appeal denied.

Plaintiff Kirisa L. Gennock initiated a complaint for child support against defendant John S. Gennock for the parties’ two minor children. He was assessed a monthly support obligation. Several years later defendant claimed to suffer from a medical disability rendering him unable to work. After the Office of Domestic Relations denied his request for a reduction in his support obligation, he filed a timely demand for a hearing.

At the de novo hearing, defendant testified that he had been a self-employed contractor but began to suffer chronic pain and fatigue and that although he attempted to maintain continuous employment, he was unable to work at the capacity required in the construction trade. He said he had continually undergone medical treatment but due to a change in medical insurance after the parties’ divorce, he had to begin a new course of treatment with different physicians. He expressed a desire to work and describe various attempts at employment but explained that his severe pain made any efforts futile.

Plaintiff testified that she had seen defendant performing yard work, operating a Bobcat and mending a fence at his girlfriend’s residence. She opined that he was able to maintain a full-time job and requested that he be assessed a monthly earning capacity consistent with his prior income. The court suspended defendant’s support obligation.

On appeal, plaintiff argued that the court erred in determining that defendant lacked sufficient income to be assessed a monthly support obligation and that he was unable to work.

The court said that a person’s support obligation is determined primarily by the parties’ actual financial resources and their earning capacity and although actual earnings usually reflect a person’s earning capacity, where there is divergence, the obligation is determined more by earning capacity than actual earnings. Further, earning capacity is defined as the amount that a person realistically could earn under the circumstances, considering age, health, mental and physical condition, training and earnings history.

The court then noted that the trial court observed defendant and heard his testimony and found it to be credible. Also, the trial court believed that he was suffering from depression and chronic pain and that his attempts to seek treatment were frustrated by a change in insurance carriers. The court found that plaintiff’s testimony regarding her observations of defendant working at his girlfriend’s residence was inclusive of his ability to maintain constant employment.

The court acknowledged that such a determination did not immediately benefit the parties’ children. However, it said defendant had to be given the opportunity to complete treatment and attempt to overcome his difficulties in order to assist them on a long-term basis. It therefore concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that defendant did not possess and earning capacity at that time.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 37P.L.W.836 (September 2, 2014)

Filed Under: Child Support, Medical Disability, Earning Capacity for Child Support Obligations

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