November 7, 2016

Monthly Misconception for October – “Big increase in former spouse’s income means big increase in alimony and child support.”

Life, careers and jobs go on after divorce.  And often a divorced person’s income increases substantially as their career takes off months or years later.
 I’m often asked, “Will this increase in my income cause me to pay more alimony to my former spouse?” or “Does my income increase mean I’ve got to pay more child support to my child’s other parent?” 
The short answers are:
1. No, if the alimony payor’s income increase is the only substantial change since the divorce, it shouldn’t result in a new higher alimony obligation. 
2. But a substantial increase in the income of the parent paying child support will often  result in a new higher child support obligation.
Here’s why.
The Connecticut Supreme Court doesn’t usually influence our divorce laws in a major way.  But it’s decisions in Dan vs. Dan, 2014,  and McKeon vs. Lennon, 2016, will impact many divorced families for many  years to come.
Both cases involved a substantial post divorce increase in the higher earning former spouse’s income.   But the outcomes of the cases are very different and emphasize the differences between the purposes for and laws authorizing alimony and child support. Dan is about alimony.  McKeon is about child support.
Alimony – Mrs. Dan returned to court years after the divorce seeking an increase in her alimony because Mr. Dan’s income had increased.  The Supreme Court decided that Mr. Dan’s increase, although substantial, without other changes in the circumstances of Mr. or Mrs. Dan, wasn’t a sufficient reason for raising the alimony.  Mrs. Dan, the alimony recipient, needed to prove exceptional circumstances in order to get her requested alimony increase.  And she couldn’t do so.
The Dan court relied in part upon the law authorizing alimony.  The Supreme Court emphasized that the income of the divorced alimony payor is only one of many factors a court must take into account when considering whether to award alimony to one spouse and if so, the alimony amount and duration.
Child Support – Like Mr. Dan, Mr. Lennon’s income increased substantially after the divorce.  Ms. McKeon returned to court seeking to increase the child support Mr. Lennon paid to her based upon Mr. Lennon’s increase. Mr. Lennon argued, unsuccessfully, that the Dan decision should be applied to child support as well as alimony cases so that his income increase, absent exceptional circumstances, wasn’t sufficient to increase his child support obligation.
However, the Supreme Court rejected Mr. Lennon’s argument. In holding that Dan didn’t apply to child support cases, the Court seemed to emphasize three points:  a) the divorced parent’s incomes matter most for determining child support; b) the Child Support Guidelines are income based; and c) children should enjoy the continued financial support of their parents after their parents divorce.
Need guidance navigating between the different rules the Supreme Court announced in Dan vs. Dan and McKeon vs. Lennon, for example deciding when it makes sense to incur time and expense going back to court to seek an increase in an alimony or child support matter?  Contact me at 203-271-3888  to discuss the specifics of your situation and develop a next steps game plan.
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