Appeal Court Overrules Family Court’s Shakedown of Dad

Los Angeles, CA–“Where husband earned a fixed annual salary that was half of what husband had previously earned, with a possible discretionary bonus up to 150 percent of that amount, support agreement requiring husband to pay nearly all his take-home pay in support payments and borrow for living expenses…was a miscarriage of justice…”–Metropolitan News Enterprise, summarizing opinion in re Marriage of Mosley [emphasis added] This recent decision by California’s Fourth Appellate District Division Three in re Marriage of Mosley (8/14/08) speaks volumes about the way the child support system manhandles fathers.  The court wrote:  

Dawn and Paul Mosley, both lawyers, dissolved their marriage. At the time of dissolution, Paul was a real estate partner at a large law firm and had a hefty income, and Dawn was the stay-at-home mother of their five children. Several years later, with the downturn in the real estate market, the law firm decided to pare down its real estate practice and Paul was terminated. He then took an in-house position with a homebuilder that paid a fraction of his former income as a base salary, together with the possibility of a substantial year-end bonus. Because a significant portion of Paul”s income was paid, if at all, as a discretionary year-end bonus, Paul sought a modification of the existing spousal and child support orders on the basis of a change in circumstances. The court denied the request and Paul appeals. The evidence showed that the year after he left the law firm, Paul still had a large total income, given his base salary, year-end bonus and a one-time signing bonus, and also that he paid very substantial spousal and child support to Dawn that year. However, where he once made $447,150 per year with the possibility of a bonus, he now made $205,000 per year with the possibility of a bonus–a discretionary bonus to be paid if at all by a homebuilder grappling with a depressed real estate market. The evidence also showed that almost all of Paul”s net monthly take-home pay from his base salary was required to pay the existing support obligations, and that he had to borrow his monthly living expenses for most of the year, in the hopes of receiving a year-end bonus that would permit him to repay the debt, before embarking on the same desperate cycle again the subsequent calendar year. The court”s finding that there was no change in circumstances, and thus no basis for a modification of support obligations, was not supported by substantial evidence. Under the particular circumstances of this case, it was an abuse of discretion   We reverse the findings and order after hearing and remand the matter for a redetermination of support obligations consistent with the views expressed herein, taking into consideration Paul”s current base salary as well as the possible imputation of income to Dawn, who is a licensed attorney and whose children are nearly grown. While the total amount of spousal and child support that Paul pays ultimately may be the same as it was previously, he should not be left to borrow 11 months of the year.

A father had to fight a big, expensive case just to get the courts to set his child support obligation on what he earns as opposed to what the court feels he might be able to earn. Read the text here or an article about it here.

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