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Can the Family Court order stimulus payments to be included as part of child support? Josefina O. v. Francisco P., 213 A.D.3d 1158 (N.Y. App. Div. 2023)


In Josefina O. v. Francisco P., 213 A.D.3d 1158 (N.Y. App. Div. 2023), a case before the Family Court of Montgomery County, the court was asked to settle a dispute that arose between separated parents regarding child support and federal stimulus payments. Stimulus payments, also known as economic impact payments or relief checks, are financial assistance provided by the government to individuals or households during times of economic hardship or crisis. These payments are intended to stimulate economic activity, support struggling individuals, and mitigate the effects of financial downturns. Stimulus payments are typically distributed through direct deposits, paper checks, or prepaid debit cards.

Background Facts
The case involves a mother and father who are separated and have five children together, born between 2007 and 2017. In August 2019, the father consented to an order of support, agreeing to pay the mother a weekly sum for child and spousal support. However, in December 2020, the mother filed a family offense petition against the father, citing harassment and assault. Subsequently, in January 2021, she initiated a divorce action.

Amidst these legal proceedings, the mother filed a motion for temporary child support and to recoup federal stimulus payments received by the father for the children’s benefit. The attorney for the children supported this motion, which the father opposed. Family Court granted the mother’s motion, directing the father to pay her a lump sum representing the children’s share of the stimulus funds, while maintaining the existing child support order from August 2019.

The central issue in the case revolves around the jurisdiction of the Family Court to allocate federal stimulus payments in the context of child support. Specifically, the question is whether these payments, considered advance tax refunds, are subject to equitable distribution by the court.

The appellate court determined that the Family Court’s order directing the father to remit federal stimulus payments to the mother was erroneous. While Family Court has the authority to issue temporary child support orders, this case did not meet the necessary criteria. The court failed to consider the father’s regular child support payments, the absence of delinquency in payments, and the lack of a petition seeking modification of the existing child support order. As a result, the order was deemed invalid.

Firstly, the court emphasized the limited jurisdiction of the Family Court and the need for statutory authority to exercise its powers. Family Court is empowered to issue temporary child support orders under certain circumstances, as provided for by statute. However, this authority must be exercised in accordance with the law and with due consideration for the specific facts of each case. In this instance, the court found that the order directing the father to remit federal stimulus payments to the mother exceeded the bounds of Family Court jurisdiction.

Secondly, the court highlighted the nature of federal stimulus payments as advance tax refunds. These payments were not intended specifically for the benefit of the minor children but rather constituted a tax credit earned by the parents. As such, they were subject to equitable distribution by the Supreme Court in the context of divorce proceedings, rather than being within the purview of Family Court jurisdiction. By characterizing the payments as marital property subject to equitable distribution, the court reinforced the principle that Family Court cannot exercise powers beyond those granted by statute.

This case underscores the need for clarity and precision in family court proceedings, particularly concerning child support and related financial matters. The appellate court’s ruling provides guidance on the appropriate scope of Family Court jurisdiction and reinforces the principles of equitable distribution and procedural fairness in such matters.

This cased pointed out that Family Court does not have the authority to order a parent to turn over a stimulus check received from the federal government as apart of a child support order.  In determining child support obligations, Family Court thoroughly examines a parent’s financial circumstances to ensure fairness and adequacy in supporting the child’s needs. This assessment encompasses various sources of income and assets that the parent may possess.

Firstly, the court scrutinizes the parent’s employment income, including salaries, wages, bonuses, commissions, and other forms of compensation derived from employment. Additionally, if the parent is self-employed or owns a business, their business income, profits, losses, and related financial documents are subject to review.

Investment income, such as dividends, interest, rental income, and capital gains from investments, is another crucial factor considered by the court. Similarly, retirement income from pensions, annuities, Social Security benefits, or other retirement plans is taken into account in assessing the parent’s financial resources.

Furthermore, government benefits like unemployment compensation, disability benefits, workers’ compensation, or other forms of assistance are factored into the child support calculation if received by the parent. The parent’s assets and property, including real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, investments, and valuable personal belongings, are also evaluated as potential sources of income or resources for child support.

Beyond traditional income streams, the court may consider other sources of income or financial windfalls, such as inheritance, gifts, alimony, royalties, or trust income, in its assessment. These additional sources contribute to the overall financial picture and help ensure that child support orders are fair and reflective of the parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs.

To learn more about how child support is calculated and how Family Court takes into consideration unusual income and windfalls, contact an experienced New York child support lawyer.

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