Masss Lawyer's Weekly, "This Week's Decisions" (12/14/2020)
Where a Judge reduced a father's weekly child support payment from $550 to $180, the judge's decision must be vacated because the father failed to meet his burden of demonstrating that a downward modification of child support was warranted.
"The parties, who never married, are the parents of one child, born in 2008. In 2012, they entered into a stipulation, which was incorporated into a Probate and Family Court judgment, requiring the father to pay weekly child support in the amount of $550. In modication seeking, among other things, an increase in child support. The father filed a counterclaim seeking a reduction in his child support obligation, alleging that his income had 'significantly declined' since 2012.
"Following a trial held over four days in 2017, the judge reduced the father's weekly child support payment to $180. The judge articulated two reasons for the reduction: 1) that the father's net worth had decreased since 2012; and 2) that although the father's income had actually increased since 2012, an application of the current Child Support Guidelines (guidelines) to the father's 2017 reported income (which reflected substantial business losses) resulted in a lower presumptive child support order than the amount agreed to by the parties in 2012.
"The mother has appealed and the father has cross-appealed from the amended modification judgements. The mother's prinicpal claim is that the father failed to meet his burden of demonstrating that a downward modification of a child support was warranted. We agree, and reverse the portions of the judgements pertaining to child support. The case is remanded for the limited purpose of determining the amount of retroactive child support that the father is required to pay to the mother. ..
"It is also apparent that the father failed to meet his burden of demonstrating that he was entitled to a modificaiton under the inconsistency standard.(.i.e., the inconsistency between the amount of the 2012 child support order and the amount resulting from an application of the current guidelines to his 2017 income). ...The inconsistency standard only applies in cases where the parties' combined available income is under the $250,000 guidelines threshold. ..
"Paragraphs seven and eight of the amended judgements dated September 20, 2019, as of August 8, 2018 are reversed. The case is remanded for the limited purpose calculating the amount of retroactive child support owed to the mother for the period of September 9, 2015, to the present. The judge shall determine the appropriate manner for the father to repay the arrears. The remaining provisions of the amended modification judgements are affirmed."