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DIVORCE 32: Regular gift of money included as income for child support formula.

This case arose from the dissolution of plaintiff and defendant’s marriage. In January 2018, the trial court granted the parties’ divorce. Regarding plaintiff’s testimony at the bench trial, the trial court found that plaintiff lacked credibility and lacked accountability for having an affair while she was married to defendant.

The trial court found that defendant’s 401(k) retirement account funds were minimal, and that defendant used the money for living expenses. The trial court found that the parties contributed to the marital estate and that both parties were of similar age. The trial court also found that the parties had the same health, life status, and necessities and circumstances. However, the trial court found that defendant had a greater earning potential. The trial court also found that defendant’s conduct of engaging in an assault was not appropriate.

The trial court calculated child support based on the parties’ income during 2017. The trial court referred this case to the Friend of the Court to assess the imputation of income and child support based on the parties’ future income. The trial court adopted plaintiff’s recommendation regarding retirement benefits, which provided that each party retained his or her retirement benefits free and clear of any claim of the other party. Finally, the trial court divided the parties’ real property, personal property, vehicles, bank accounts, businesses, additional debts, insurance, and attorney fees.  The trial court did not award spousal support.

Plaintiff first argues on appeal that the trial court erred by including money that plaintiff received from her parents as income when it calculated child support.

In determining the contributions to child support that divorced parents must make, the trial court presumptively must follow the Michigan Child Support Formula (MCSF) developed by the Friend of the Court. The assessment of support and the support formula are based on the child’s needs and each parent’s ability to pay.

Pursuant to the MCSF, a trial court uses a parent’s net income to calculate support. Net income means all income minus the deductions and adjustments permitted by this manual. 2017 MCSF 2.01(A). Property or principal from an inheritance or a one-time gift is generally not included as income. However, a gift that a parent receives from relatives other than a spouse, friends, or others may be included as income if the gift is significant and regularly reduces personal expenses or replaces or supplements employment income.

In this case, plaintiff received approximately $57,000 or $67,000 from her parents. The trial court included the money from plaintiff’s parents as income for its 2017 child support calculation.

The testimony presented at the bench trial supported the trial court’s determination that the money that plaintiff received from her parents was a gift, rather than a loan. Plaintiff’s father testified that he gave plaintiff money to help her pay her mortgage. The testimony supports the conclusion that the sum of money that plaintiff received from her parents replaced or supplemented plaintiff’s employment income, which was not sufficient to meet her mortgage payments.

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