Child Support

The Full Amount Of Father’s Trust Distribution Should Not Be Included As Income For Child Support Purposes

In the child support, family law appellate case of Carl v. McNeil, PICS Case No. 15-1996 (Pa. Super. December 21, 2015) the Honorable Jack Panella, writing on behalf of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, ruled that the mother’s challenge to a court order affirming in part and “administratively remanding” master’s child support order was appeal-able as an interlocutory order under Rule 311(f) because the administrative remand did not involve any exercise of discretion by the master.

Mother filed a petition to modify father’s child support order and then filed exceptions to the master’s recommendations. Trial court granted some of the exceptions, ordered an administrative remand to the master to determine whether the final figures were consistent with the current support guidelines and found that mother failed to satisfy her burden of proving that the entirety of father’s trust distributions should have been treated as income.

Mother appealed and father argued that the order from which mother appealed did not dispose of all claims and, thus, was not a final order. Court disagreed with father that the trial court’s order permitting mother to request a hearing on her exceptions regarding counsel fees made the order not final. In the order, the trial court closed the matter but stated that it would reopen the record upon request. Mother did not ask the trial court to reopen the matter but instead filed an appeal. However, because claims remained open pending the resolution of the administrative remand, the order was not final for appeal purposes.

Nonetheless, the appeal was properly before the court as an interlocutory order that was appealable as of right under Rule 311(f). The administrative remand in the order did not involve any exercise of discretion by the master. The master’s sole instruction was to compare the figures agreed upon by the parties to the child support statute to ensure that “the final figures [we]re consistent with current support guidelines.”

The court affirmed, based on the trial court’s opinion denying mother’s claim that the full amount of father’s trust distributions had to be included as income for the calculation of support. Mother failed to show a material and substantial change in circumstances where she failed to carry the burden to establish that the full trust had to be included as income for support purposes as opposed to only the interest and dividend income of the trust listed on father’s tax returns. Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, the master properly found that the income generated by the trust, listed on father’s tax returns, had to be included for support purposes but that the principal did not.

A dissent argued that the entirety of the trust distributions received by father was includable as income available for child support.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly 39 PLW 18 (January 5, 2016)

Filed Under: Child Support; Trust Distribution; Income Available For Child Support

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