Our CFL course walks you through the financial aspects of child support cases, including the best way to calculate payments. Like the recent New York appeals court case of English vs. Smith, you may face some roadblocks in settling child support payments.

In this case, the father sought a change to the child support agreement and wanted credit for payments he made directly to the child. The Law Offices of Peter S. Smith represented the father. 


Case Details

The couple had one child together and divorced in 2015. In their separation agreement, they allowed that the father would pay child support to the mother, Mary English. 

They also agreed to share the costs of their child’s undergraduate and graduate education, extracurricular activities, and uncovered healthcare treatment equally. They couldn’t change or waive the agreement or its provisions except in writing “duly subscribed and acknowledged by both parties with the same formality” as the separation agreement itself. 

Their child started attending University College in Dublin, Ireland, on a full-tuition scholarship in 2015. The father stopped paying child support to Mary in May 2015. He argued that they had agreed to pay the child’s living expenses equally in place of his child support payments. 

In 2017, Mary filed a violation petition. Afterward, the magistrate determined that the father violated the child support provisions in the separation agreement. The magistrate calculated the father owed $50,865 total in child support. The father sought a set-off or credit for certain payments he made directly to the child, and filed objections that the family court denied. He later appealed. 


New York Supreme Court Appellate Division Decision

The appeals court agreed with the family court’s denial of the father’s objections to the magistrate’s determination that he violated the separation agreement. It cited that “a separation agreement entered into by the parties in a matrimonial action constitutes a contract between them subject to the principles of contract interpretation.”

It also determined that when the couples’ intentions are “clearly and unambiguously set forth,” the court must act according to the intent of the language used rather than adding or removing terms or distorting the meaning of the contract.

The appeals court believed the father failed to establish in writing a waiver or terms of the changes to the agreement. 

Regarding the payment of the child’s living expenses, the court found the agreement had “separate and distinct” sections for child support and college expenses, and classified room and board as a college expense not part of child support.

It also upheld the family court’s denial of his objections to the credit for payments to the child, as the separation agreement didn’t include them. The judgment supported the magistrate’s determination that the father made the payments, such as the child’s cell phone bill and gifts, voluntarily and the court couldn’t set them off from his child support obligation.  

The knowledge you gain from the CFL Credential helps you negotiate these and other child support issues skillfully. When it comes to getting more clients and winning more cases, it’s not always who you know, it’s what you know. Find out what you’ve missed in our free information packet today.

And don’t miss our exclusive webinar, Executive Compensation: Winning Strategies, on October 11 at 4:00 PM EST.

Thomas Field, Esq., of Illinois firm Beermann LLP and AACFL Advisory Board member Jim Godbout, Principal at CliftonLarsonAllen, will discuss executive compensation in divorce proceedings, including stock options and restricted stock units (RSUs). Space is limited – reserve your spot now.



Justia Law. (2019). Matter of English v Smith. [online] Available at: https://law.justia.com/cases/new-york/appellate-division-second-department/2019/2018-07362.html [Accessed 6 Sep. 2019].