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Whether mother should be required to pay back child support that father paid after children turned 21. Frederick-Kane v. Potter 187 A.D.3d 1436 (N.Y. App. Div. 2020)


The case before the Family Court of Albany County involved an appeal from an order dated November 16, 2018. This order addressed a modification of child support, highlighting the complexities surrounding parental obligations post-divorce.

In New York, child support modification can be pursued under certain circumstances outlined in the statutes. Family Court Act § 451 provides the grounds for modifying an existing child support order. One such ground is a substantial change in circumstances since the entry of the last child support order. This change must be significant and ongoing, affecting either the financial situation of the parents or the needs of the child.

Another ground for modification is the passage of three years since the entry of the last child support order, or since the order was last modified, whichever is later. This provision allows for a review of child support obligations to ensure they remain fair and appropriate over time.

Additionally, if there has been a change in either parent’s gross income by 15% or more since the entry of the last order, this constitutes a substantial change in circumstances warranting modification. This provision is outlined in Family Court Act § 413(1)(b)(5)(ii).

Family Court Act § 451 also permits modification if the needs of the child have significantly changed or if there has been a change in the child’s custody arrangements.

Background Facts
The parties involved, referred to as the mother and father, were previously married and shared two children, both born in 1998. Initially, a court order from 1999 established the father’s weekly child support obligation at $150, later adjusted to $190 due to a cost of living increase. Subsequent legal proceedings saw a petition from the mother for an upward modification of child support. Following a hearing, the Support Magistrate dismissed the petition, prompting further appeals and remittals. Eventually, Family Court ruled to increase the father’s child support obligation to $380.45 weekly, effective from November 22, 2017.

The primary concern in this case revolved around the father’s appeal against the increased child support obligation imposed by Family Court.

Despite the father’s appeal, the court determined the case to be moot due to the children reaching the age of 21. Furthermore, the court highlighted the strong public policy against restitution or recoupment of child support overpayments. As such, even if the court were to reverse the decision, the father would not be entitled to reclaim any overpaid child support.

The court’s rationale was based on several key factors. Firstly, it considered the history of the child support order and the parties’ previous attempts to modify it. The court noted that the mother had previously sought an upward modification of the father’s child support obligation, which had been granted after a de novo determination.

Secondly, the court evaluated the father’s cross-petition for a downward modification of his child support obligation. After a hearing, the Support Magistrate set the father’s child support obligation at a specific amount, which was subsequently appealed by the father.

Thirdly, the court examined the age of the children involved in the case. Since the children had turned 21, the father’s obligation to pay child support had ceased according to Family Court Act § 413(1)(a). This statutory provision was crucial in determining the timeline for the termination of the child support obligation.

Furthermore, the court considered the principle of restitution or recoupment of child support overpayments. It cited a strong public policy against allowing such recoupment and emphasized that the father would not be able to regain any sums he might have overpaid in child support, even if the court were to reverse its decision.

Finally, the court addressed the issue of mootness. It acknowledged that the father had paid the arrearage in full and that there would be no credit against arrears even if the court were to determine that reversal was appropriate. Therefore, the court concluded that the rights of the parties would not be directly affected by the determination of the appeal, leading to the dismissal of the appeal as moot.

This case exemplifies the intricacies of post-divorce child support arrangements and the legal principles governing such matters. Despite the father’s appeal, the court’s ruling reflects a commitment to upholding the best interests of the children involved while maintaining consistency and fairness in support obligations.

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