Deviation From Child Support Guidelines - High Income, Ky Supreme Court Published Opinion May 5, 2016

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“Questions Presented: Family Law. Child Support. Income Exceeding Guidelines. Whether the trial court properly included projected expenses in the child’s reasonable needs when establishing an initial child support order for a high income parent.”

Father is an NBA basketball player earning a salary of $1,434,665 and an additional $197,240 in endorsements. Mother, who has primary physical custody of daughter, earns $1,050 and lives with her parents and other family members. After finding the child had reasonable needs of $4,250 per month, the trial court ordered Father to pay $4,250 a month in child support. The order was retroactive to the month following the month in which Mother filed her original motion for child support.

Father appealed and the Court of Appeals vacated and remanded the trial court’s order holding the retro-activity of the order was untenable and the trial court abused its discretion by not basing child support on the child’s responsible needs, stating the trial court relied on speculative evidence.

Mother sought and was granted discretionary review. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and upholds the trial court’s order of $4,250 per month in child support. The Supreme Court first states that this case is clearly not bound by the child support guidelines, as the combined income of Father and Mother surpasses the limits of the guidelines. Thus, child support is within the trial court’s discretion when considering the reasonable needs of the child.

The Court of Appeals vacated the trial court holding that the reasonable needs of the child were based on speculative evidence citing prior Appellate Court cases Bell v. Catwright, 277 S.W. 3d 631 (Ky. App. 2009) and Downing v. Downing, 45 S.W.3d 449 (Ky. App. 2001). The Supreme Court holds that the Court of Appeals imposed an overly burdensome standard and inappropriately substituted its understanding of the child’s reasonable needs. The Supreme Court holds that on review “An order setting child support above the guidelines will be affirmed so long as the trial court sets out specific supportive findings and the award, as a whole , is reasonable in lights of those findings and the record.” In this case, the trial court properly held an evidentiary hearing and set forth specific facts supporting its child support award. The proof was not speculative just because some of the expenses had not yet been incurred by Mother.

Note that the Supreme Court differentiates this case from Bell and Downing because it is an initial request for child support and not a request for a modification bound by KRS 403,213(1) which requires a showing of material change in circumstances that is “substantial and continuing.”

The Supreme Court also upholds the  retroactivity of the trial court’s child support award holding that the effective date of child support is undisputedly “within the sound discretion of the trial court” and the child’s reasonable needs did not begin with the entry of the court’s support order supporting the retroactivity of any child support order.

Digested by Elizabeth M. Howell

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