- Published: Monday, 10 November 2014 19:05
Child support is often one of the most heavily litigated areas of family cases in Washington, DC. In a recent case, Saxon v. Zirkle, the D.C. Court of appeals addressed this issue. In Saxon, husband and wife were married and had one child. The parties separated in 2009 and the father filed a child custody action in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
The trial court ordered the father to pay approximately $1370 in child support payments each month. The trial court also appointed two guardian ad litems (GALs) to be responsible for the best interests of the child with respect to issue pertaining to child support and visitation. The trial court ordered that the GALs have all rights associated with being a party, and shall serve without compensation.
After a child custody trial was held, the court ordered a reduction in the child support payments by the father to $980 per month. The court reflected the mother’s income of $24,000 per year in making this calculation. Joint legal custody was awarded to both parties and the mother was awarded primary physical custody with the child’s father having reasonable visitation.
As a Washington, DC child custody attorney, I understand that courts have a general preference to award joint legal custody. However, if one parent is unfit to make important decisions pertaining to the child’s well-being, one party may be awarded sole legal custody.
After trial, the mother appealed the trial court’s calculation and use of her annual income when reducing the child support amount to be paid by the child’s father. On appeal, the court noted that a trial court has considerable discretion when arriving at a child support figure. In Washington, DC, the Court of Appeals will not reverse a trial court’s child support determination unless it is established that the trial judge clearly abused his or her discretion. In other words, unless the trial court’s child support calculations are clearly wrong, or not supported by evidence, the appellate court will not reverse the lower court.
In Saxon, evidence was admitted that the mother earned a bachelor’s degree, had two real estate licenses, and had been a real estate agent for more than 24 years. She had earned nearly $190,000 per year during the course of her employment. She testified that her income recently dropped because she was home-schooling her child, but the child was now in school outside of the home. She was trying to return to work but the real estate market had not recovered from the major economic recession and she was having trouble making money.
In the year prior to trial, she had only earned $800 from odd jobs and was living off her $40,000 retirement. She was trying to become a substitute teacher in the D.C. metro area and the court noted that the minimum salary for a substitute teacher was $24,000. The court found that she was voluntarily reducing her income and could be earning more. For this reason, the court used the figure of $24,000 when fashioning a child support amount.
If you live in Washington, DC and are in need of assistance with a child support matter or other family law issue, please contact the Law Office of Daniel A. Gross, PLLC at (202) 596-5716 for a confidential consultation.