Child Support

Father’s Inheritance Provided A Basis For The Court To Deviate From The Guideline Support Calculation Father’s Earning Capacity

In the family law, child support appellate case of E.R.L. v. C.K.L., PICS Case No. 25-1599, (Pa. Super. Oct. 19, 2015) the Honorable Mary Jane Bowes, writing on behalf of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, ruled that pursuant to Pa.R.Civ.P. 1910.16-5, the trial court properly treated father’s inheritance as an asset that provided a basis to deviate from the guideline support obligations calculated using father’s earning capacity.

The parties were married in 2003 and had three children during the marriage. In 2013 and 2014, the parties’ marriage deteriorated. On June 9, 2014, mother filed a complaint seeking child support and spousal support. The trial court directed father to pay mother $2,267 per month in child support for the parties’ children.

In calculating this amount, the court used father’s stipulated annual earning capacity of $76,440. In addition, the court determined that father’s access to roughly $600,000 he inherited while the support litigation was pending was a basis to apply an upward deviation of the monthly support obligation in the amount of $575 pursuant to Pa.R.Civ.P. 1910.16-5.

On appeal, the Superior Court noted that in Humphreys v. DeRoss, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that the corpus of an inheritance is not income for the purpose of calculating a child support obligation. However, such an inheritance was relevant in determining whether an upward deviation from the guideline support obligation was warranted pursuant to rule 1910.16-5.

Consistent with Humphreys, the trial court considered the $600,000 inheritance as a basis to apply an upward deviation to the support obligation pursuant to rule 1910.16-5. Father did not challenge the trial court’s authority to apply the deviation, but he argued that the upward adjustment of $575 per month was unjustified in this case.

According to father, the guideline support calculation was sufficient to provide financial support to his children and he should not have to invade the corpus of his inheritance to provide his children additional support. He maintained that the trial court failed to consider all relevant factors prior to applying the upward adjustment.

The Superior Court found that the record belied father’s assertion. As the appellate court observed, the trial court invoked rule 1910.16-5 as a ground to deviate from the guideline support calculation. The court reasoned that, consistent with Humphreys, father’s inheritance affected his financial obligations by making more income available for support.

In consideration of the rule 1910.16-5 factors, the court found that an upward deviation of $575 per month was appropriate for the best interest of the parties’ children. While the trial court did not address each of the nine rule 1910.16-5 factors individually, father did not cite legal authority for the proposition that the court was required to set forth its consideration of each factor separately.

Although brief, the trial court’s discussion was a sufficient statement of its reasons for the deviation. The trial court properly treated father’s $600,000 as an asset that provided a basis to deviate from the guideline support obligation that the court calculated using father’s earning capacity. Father’s desire to preserve the corpus of the inheritance for future investment “to support his work-free lifestyle” was not persuasive.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 38 PLW 1027 (November 3, 2015)

Filed Under: Family Law, Child Support; Inheritance Deviation from Child Support Guidelines

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