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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.

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