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In Calculating Child Support Payments, a Parent May be Credited with the Time the Child is in School if That Parent Has Primary Physical Responsibility for the Child

The Court upheld a child support order modifying father’s obligation based on his showing that he was primarily physical responsible for child while at boarding school.

After a divorce proceeding, mother and father shared joint legal custody of the couple’s minor son, Richard. The father was Richard’s primary caretaker and his home served as the son’s primary residence. Mother’s parenting time was calculated to be 38%. Before trial, father’s parenting time included the time that Richard attended private school. Father’s family law attorney filed a motion to modify his child support obligations after his son began attending boarding school on the east coast. Father’s family law attorney contended that mother’s parenting time was reduced from 38% to 17% and because he continued to serve as Richard’s primary caretaker, paying for all tuition and travel expenses, his child support obligation to mother should be reduced. Father paid for Richard’s education with a family trust that represented the majority of his personal inheritance. The divorce court granted father’s divorce lawyer’s motion and imputed the time son was at school to father’s total parenting time, reducing mother’s total parenting time to 17%. However, the divorce court acknowledged mother would incur $2,500 in travel expenses to visit son, and ordered one-half of that expense as supplemental child support.

Mother’s divorce lawyer appealed the decision by the divorce court. The Court agreed with father’s divorce lawyer and held that reallocating mother’s time to 17% was not an abuse of discretion by the divorce court. The court explained, in California there is a uniform guideline formula to determine child support orders. The formula is presumed to be correct, unless a showing of special circumstances is made, which would then allow the divorce court to depart from the uniform guideline. A component of the guideline formula is the “H” factor – which is the approximate time the higher earner has or will have primary physical responsibility for the child compared to the other parent. To impute parenting time to a parent, the divorce court will consider which parent, in the practical sense, is primarily responsible for the child. In making such a determination the divorce court considers what parent organized and paid for school, transportation needs, pays for financial emergencies, and which parent’s work day would be interrupted should something occur to child while in school such as a medical emergency or otherwise.

The divorce court determined father had assumed overall physical responsibility for Richard while he was in boarding school and thus that time could be imputed to father in calculating child support orders. Father found Richard’s school and signed all documents accepting responsibility for his education, father’s trust pays for Richard’s tuition and board, father covers all incidental expenses and travel expenses. Further, the divorce court inferred that should an emergency arise father would be the parent responsible for remedying the situation. Mother refused to sign any of the schools documents, nor share in transportation responsibilities. Additionally, the divorce court determined mother would likely not be the parent to respond to medical emergencies. Thus, the Court agreed with father’s divorce lawyer and held it was not an abuse of discretion for the divorce court to have found that father had primary physical responsibility and could calculate the time Richard was at school as his parenting time for the purpose of child support payments.

In re Marriage of Katzberg (2001) 88 Cal.App.4th 974