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FAMILY LAW 54: The court held that the trial court did not err by using the parties’ 2018 incomes when calculating child and spousal support.

The parties were married for over 20 years before plaintiff filed for divorce. At the divorce trial, the parties’ incomes were a source of contention. Plaintiff wanted the trial court to rely on the parties’ 2018 incomes when calculating child and spousal support. Defendant wanted the trial court to rely on the parties’ projected 2019 incomes when calculating child and spousal support. Defendant believed that he was on track to earn less in 2019 than 2018, while plaintiff was on track to earn more. The trial court ultimately decided to rely on the parties’ 2018 incomes.

Standard of Review

In a divorce case, the determination of income is a finding of fact, and this Court reviews for clear error the factual findings underlying the trial court’s rulings. Whether to award spousal support is in the trial court’s discretion, and we review the trial court’s award for an abuse of discretion. If the trial court’s findings are not clearly erroneous, we must then decide whether the dispositional ruling was fair and equitable in light of the facts. The trial court’s decision regarding spousal support must be affirmed unless we are firmly convinced that it was inequitable. This Court reviews de novo whether the trial court properly followed the Michigan Child Support Formula (MCSF) when awarding child support.

Analysis

The divorce trial in this case occurred in March of 2019, approximately three months into 2019. Rather than attempt to calculate the parties’ 2019 incomes using paystubs from 2019, the trial court chose to rely on the parties’ 2018 incomes. A trial court must strictly comply with the requirements of the MCSF in calculating the parents’ support obligations unless it ‘determines from the facts of the case that application of the child support formula would be unjust or inappropriate. Although the trial court did not make an explicit finding regarding MCSF 2.02(B), its decision to rely on defendant’s 2018 income alone implies that the trial court found it would be unjust or inappropriate to rely on defendant’s income from 2016 and 2017. In sum, the trial court chose to rely on defendant’s 2018 income alone rather than an average of his 2016, 2017, and 2018 income, which would have increased his support obligation.

Conclusion

We conclude that the trial court’s decision to use the parties’ 2018 incomes when calculating child-support and spousal-support obligations was not clearly erroneous. Instead, it relied on defendant’s actual 2018 income, rather than guessing at his 2019 income to calculate child support. The MCSF contemplates trial courts looking backward in time to determine a parent’s income as evidenced by the fact that the formula instructs courts to use the average of three years’ worth of income to calculate child support if a parent’s income significantly varies from year to year. Thus, what the trial court did in this case is not inconsistent with the MCSF and did not constitute the imputation of income to defendant.

ADVICE TO CLIENTS FACING SPOUSAL SUPPORT AND CHILD SUPPORT ISSUES IN FAMILY LAW CASES

Aldrich Legal Services understands what a stressful time this is for you when you have support issues.

Aldrich Legal Services represent parents throughout southeast Michigan with a wide range of family law related matters.

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FAMILY LAW 83: A trial court can terminate a parent’s rights and permit a stepparent to adopt a child.

A trial court has discretion to terminate a parent’s rights and permit a stepparent to adopt a child when the conditions of MCL 710.51(6) are met. MCL 710.51(6)(b) requires the petitioner to establish that the other parent had the ability to visit, contact, or communicate with the children, and substantially failed or neglected to do so for a period of two years.

PROBATE 53: The trust agreement included an Incontestability Provision.

A settlor’s intent is to be carried out as nearly as possible. Generally, in terrorem clauses are valid and enforceable. However, a provision in a trust that purports to penalize an interested person for contesting the trust or instituting another proceeding relating to the trust shall not be given effect if probable cause exists for instituting a proceeding contesting the trust or another proceeding relating to the trust.

FAMILY LAW 82: Court stated it would terminate the personal protection order (PPO) after the parties present documentation of the initiation of the divorce proceedings.

However, the trial court concluded that these matters should, in fact, be in the province and the jurisdiction of the Family Division and in that respect, having issued a personal protection order, the Court stated it would terminate the personal protection order after the parties present documentation of the initiation of the divorce proceedings.

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FAMILY LAW 77: Court awarded plaintiff sole legal custody; defendant was unwilling to work with plaintiff.

For joint custody to work, parents must be able to agree with each other on basic issues in child rearing including health care, religion, education, day to day decision making and discipline and they must be willing to cooperate with each other in joint decision making. If two equally capable parents are unable to cooperate and to agree generally concerning important decisions affecting the welfare of their children, the court has no alternative but to determine which parent shall have sole custody of the children.

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