If you are like most family law practitioners, you likely use your CFL Designation for Divorce Practitioners as a marketing tool to attract additional high-asset clients. You likely also use the advanced financial knowledge and skills it gives you to take on the most complex divorce cases with confidence. But have you ever considered the fact that your CFL credential can stand you in very good stead if you yourself face divorce?
Unfortunately, attorneys often divorce and when they do, their high incomes usually become a major factor in property settlement agreements and child support determinations. Such was the situation in the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court case of Michael Hanrahan v. Jeanne Baker.
Here both parties were attorneys involved in a dispute over whether Pennsylvania’s high-income child support guidelines preclude an independent discrete analysis by the court of the children’s reasonable needs so as to determine appropriate child support. Their other issue was whether or not Michael’s voluntary contribution of $2.5 million to an irrevocable trust he established for the benefit of the couple’s children should entitle him to a downward deviation from the high-income child support guidelines.
At trial, the court overruled Michael’s request to conduct a discrete analysis of the children’s reasonable needs in applying Pennsylvania’s high-income guidelines, concluding that the need for such an analysis had been eliminated via the guidelines themselves. The court also held that Michael was entitled to a downward deviation from the guidelines based on his $2.5 million voluntary contribution to the children’s trust.
Both Michael and Jeanne appealed to the Superior Court. It affirmed with regard to the trial court granting the child support award without conducting an analysis of the children’s needs. It reversed with regard to the trial court’s grant of Michael’s downward child support deviation, stating that “a parent’s obligation to support minor children is independent of the minor’s assets” and that “to the extent that a parent can ‘reasonably’ do so, a parent is obligated to provide support for a child regardless of the child’s property.”
Supreme Court Opinion
Once this case reached the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, it held that a court should “engage in additional scrutiny of the reasonable needs of the particular children involved in the high income case before it.” It also held that “through use of the deviation factors and income and expense statements, the trier of fact should determine whether there should be deviation from the presumptive minimum amount of support.”
It nevertheless held that in this particular case, “the trial court’s decision to award a downward deviation of Father’s support obligation based upon his voluntary trust contribution was in error,” noting that “a voluntary contribution to a trust does not rise to the level of a special need or circumstance rendering the proper amount of support unjust or inappropriate. Rather, it is at best a laudable act which would be denigrated by a downward deviation, and at worst, a nefarious manipulation of income for which a downward deviation would result in a troubling, if not unjust, award.” The Supreme Court therefore vacated the Superior Court’s judgment and the trial court’s amended order, remanding the entire matter back to the trial court “for further proceedings and entry of an order that is consistent with this opinion.”
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.