Child Support

Child Support Must Be Immediately Available


In the family law, Child Support case of Hanrahan vs. Bakker, PICS Case No 16-1455 (Pa. Super. Nov. 18. 2016)  the Honorable Judge Alice Beck Dubow, writing on behalf of the Pennsylvania Superior, ruled that in a high income child support case, trial court erred in requiring mother to put a portion of the obligation into a PUTMA account for the children, in evaluating Pa.R.C.P. 1901.16-5(b)(7) based on the children’s potential standard of living post-minority.

Parents divorced in 2009 and shared legal and physical custody of two children on an alternating weekly basis. The property settlement provided that child support would be recalculated each year based on the parties’ respective incomes. In 2012, father’s income rose substantially and he disagreed with the terms of the agreement. He continued to pay the child support he paid in 2011, deposited $2.5 million into an irrevocable non-grantor trust for the benefit of the two children and paid $70,000 towards the children’s private school tuition, camps and activities. Mother filed for enforcement of the settlement agreement and father filed a counterclaim. The trial court ordered father to pay more than $50,000 a month in child support, ordered mother to set up a PUT-MA account for the benefit of each child and to deposit $30,000 per month of the child support money into the PUTMA accounts. Both parents appealed.

Mother contended that the trial court abused its discretion when it required her to set up a PUTMA account for the benefit of each child and deposit $30,000 per month of the child support money into the accounts. The trial court’s reasoning, that just giving the money to mother would deprive children of a fund the guarantee maintenance of their lifestyle in future when father’s income could be less, was flawed.

Child support monies awarded under the guidelines had to be immediately available for the children’s needs.  The court also agreed that the trial court abused its discretion in determining that father’s voluntary distributions to a trust entitled him to a downward deviation for support purposes. The trial court erred in considering the children’s assets, the trust fund set up by father, in determining father’s obligation. The trial court’s primary focus should have been the children’s immediate needs. Furthermore, mother was entitled to counsel fees under the settlement agreement because father was the breaching party.

Father argued unpersuasively that the trial court erred in concluding that Pa.R.C.P. 1910-16-3.1 and Ball vs. Minnick, 648 A.2d1192, eliminated the statutory requirement of 23 Pa.C.S. 4322(a) that high income child support awards be based on the reasonable needs of the children and that reasonable need was no longer the governing standard in determining high income child support. Reasonable need was not one of the factors listed in Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-5(b). The 2010 guideline amendments involved a three step process in setting high income child support and allowed a court to fashion a child support award based on the guidelines without engaging in a separate and discrete analysis of the children’s reasonable needs. However, the court agreed with father that the trial court misapplied the standard of living factor and erred in justifying its support directives based on a future standard of living for mother and children post-minority.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 39  PLW 1155 (December 6, 2016)

Filed Under:  Child Support Awards, High Income Child Support Cases: High Income Based On Guidelines

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