As a practicing family law attorney, you know that the female clients you represent in divorces for the most part work outside the home and earn substantially more income than was the case just 10 years ago. Some of them earn the same salary as the husbands they are about to divorce, and some earn considerably more than their husbands. This rise in the capacity of women to earn good or even superlative incomes has changed the complexity of the property settlement agreements, spousal maintenance negotiations, and even child support calculations you now need to make. Luckily for you, the advanced financial knowledge and skills you gained by earning your CFL Designation for Divorce Practitioners let you meet these challenges with confidence.
In all likelihood, your jurisdiction has child support guidelines that you need to follow, regardless of how much your client and his or her spouse earn. But is a vast disparity of incomes between an ex-wife and an ex-husband grounds for a post-divorce reduction in child support by the party with the lower income? The Supreme Court of Alaska recently took up this issue in the case of Christopher D. v. Krislyn D.
Christopher and Krislyn married in 1996 and had two minor children at the time they separated in January 2014, allegedly because Christopher committed an act of domestic violence against Krislyn while under the influence of alcohol. At this point, Christopher was a city police officer and Krislyn was a veterinarian who owned her own practice. She subsequently filed for a legal separation that she later converted into a divorce. The judge entered, among other things, an interim custody arrangement, but neither party pursued a child support request until two years later.
By the time of the ultimate custody trial in November 2016, Christopher’s drinking problem had progressed to the point where he had been convicted of DWI and possession of a firearm. Even though the couple had resolved all their property issues, the final custody and child support issues remained to be litigated. In addition, Christopher had been re-arrested for DWI, reckless endangerment, resisting arrest and violating the release conditions of his previous conviction.
At the custody trial, Krislyn asked for child support commencing November 1, 2015, one month after entry of the divorce decree, based on the “informal interim financial arrangement [prior to the decree] regarding child support.” Christopher sought a reduction of his child support obligation based on Alaska’s “good cause” exception. The court denied the reduction, stating that “[disparity] of earning potential does not … obviate the need for support to be calculated.” The court, nevertheless, ruled that Christopher’s child support payments should begin on January 1, 2017, rather than on the date Krislyn had requested. Both parties appealed.
Supreme Court Decision
On appeal, Christopher alleged that the superior court had abused its discretion by disallowing his child support reduction. He contended that Krislyn’s earning capacity, allegedly more than 20 times his own, not only “is more than adequate by itself to provide for the children’s needs,” but also that the child support the court required him to pay “significantly exceeds the amount of the children’s reasonable needs” and that his contribution “provides little more than a token benefit to the children.”
The Alaska Supreme Court found no merit in Christopher’s arguments, and affirmed that part of the superior court’s ruling, holding that the court had not abused its discretion in denying Christopher his requested child support variance. With regard to the issue of the proper effective date for Christopher to begin making child support payments, the Court held that parents’ obligation to support their children “begins … on the date the parents stop living together” and that “[t]his duty exists even in the absence of a court order of support.” It therefore reversed that part of the superior court’s order and remanded to the superior court for “explicit consideration of child support for the interim period between the parties’ separation [in January 2014] and January 1, 2017.”
For more information on how gaining your CFL Designation for Divorce Practitioners gives you the financial knowledge and skills you need to attract additional high-asset clients, plus other benefits of AACFL membership, please visit this page of our website.