Father’s Inheritance Justifies Child Support Guideline Deviation
E.R.L. v. C.K.L., 2015 Pa.Super. 220 (October 19, 2015)
In this published decision, the Superior Court examined a child support order in which the trial court had granted an upward deviation from the guidelines, and ordered the father to pay his share of all extracurricular activities in which the children might participate. The Court affirmed, holding that Father’s inheritance, while not counting as income for support purposes, justified an child support guideline deviation; and the directive to pay for extracurricular activities did not divest Father of his legal custody rights.
Mother and Father were the parents of three children ranging from ages 3 to 9 years old. Father was a police officer who was placed on administrative leave after a PFA order was entered against him; and then terminated from his employment. Mother was assessed with an earning capacity for 25 hours per week, perhaps because of her custodial responsibilities to the preschool aged child. At the conference level, an interim support order of $1,458/month was entered. Father requested a de novo hearing.
The trial court, in a de novo proceeding, applied a stipulated $76,440 earning capacity for Father and part-time earning capacity for Mother. The basic child support guideline for three children was approx. $1,350 per month. The trial court added two upward deviations. First, the trial court found that Father had access to approx. $600,000 in inheritance that he received during the course of the litigation. The trial court granted an upward deviation of $575 per month. Next, the trial court ordered Father to pay an additional $349 per month for extracurricular activities, for a total of $2,267 per month.
On appeal, Father argued that his inheritance should not have been considered in setting his child support obligation. The Superior Court held that, while the principal portion of an inheritance cannot be counted as income, see 23 Pa.C.S. § 4302, Humphreys v. DeRoss, 790 A.2d 281 (Pa.2002), it could justify a guideline deviation under Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-5. The Superior Court held that the trial court did not err by failing to address each of the nine criteria under that Rule individually.
Notably, the Superior Court was not swayed by Father’s argument that he should be permitted to preserve his inheritance to generate income that would reduce his need to work.
Next, Father argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it ordered him to pay eighty percent of all future activities in which his children might participate, because doing so would deprive him of his legal custody right to decide which activities were appropriate. Father argued that he preferred to limit the children to one activity per season, but Mother enrolled them in any activity they desired. Father’s complaint fell upon deaf ears, however. The Superior Court held that Father should take up his argument in custody court instead.
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