On June 28, 2013, the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department made an interesting decision in regard to child support and the noncustodial parent that has implications for Divorce cases in Nassau County and Suffolk County Courts on Long Island, NY. In Leonard v. Leonard, the trial court granted the parents shared physical custody and the father sole legal custody. Also, under the trial court decision, the mother was responsible for paying child support to the husband, although he actually had a far more significant income than the mother. The mother appealed the entire decision, but the Appellate Division only ruled on the issue of child support.
It is typical for the noncustodial parent to pay child support to the custodial parent, where the custodial parent is usually the parent with whom the child spends most of his or her time. However, in Leonard, the father had sole legal custody, not sole physical custody and each parent spent an equal amount of time with the children. In the appeal, the court found that because both parents shared equal time with the children that the father should be viewed as the noncustodial parent, but only as it related to child support, stating: “It is well settled that in shared residency arrangements, where neither parent has the children for a majority of the time, the party with the higher income is deemed to be the noncustodial parent for purposes of child support.” Leonard v. Leonard, 2013 WL 3242643 at *1.
The father tried to argue that the above reasoning was based on cases where parents held joint legal custody, and that they did not apply because he had sole legal custody of the children. The court found that having sole legal custody does not increase the financial burden placed on the custodial parent when both parents share physical custody equally. Moreover, the court found that because there was already a significant gap between the incomes earned by both parents, that ordering the mother to pay child support would only increase this disparity. Based on the income of each parent, the equal amount of time the parents spent with the children, and in an effort to maintain a more equal standard of living for the children, the court held that for the purpose of child support the father was the noncustodial parent and is responsible for paying child support.
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