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Earning Capacity and Child Support in California – In re Marriage of Menko

California courts look at a number of factors when deciding whether to order child support in a divorce case. Chief among those factors are the child’s best interests and the parents’ ability to pay, as the state’s Second District Court of Appeals explained in a recent case.

smurfy-workers-1183449Wife developed a number of serious health and medical problems during her 10-year marriage with Husband. She already suffered from epilepsy and was diagnosed with lupus, a degenerative disc disease called Lynch Syndrome, and related colon cancer while the couple was living in Ohio. She was nevertheless able to work intermittently as a bartender and house cleaner until her conditions forced her to quit. Wife was serving as an unpaid foster parent for two children when Husband filed for divorce in 2008.

A trial court eventually granted the divorce and ordered Husband to pay Wife roughly $800 per month in spousal support. Although the court also granted Husband sole custody of the couple’s only child (Child), it declined his request to order Wife to pay child support. The judge concluded that Wife had no monthly income and that her health conditions prevented her from working. The judge also observed that Wife had very limited contact with Child and found that the kid’s needs were currently being met.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Second District said the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in declining to award child support. Section 4053 of the California Family Code lays out a number of principles that courts are expected to adhere to in considering child support issues. A court must keep in mind that the child’s best interests are the top priority, that both parents are responsible for the child’s well-being, and that each parent should pay support according to his or her ability to do so.

In this case, the Second District said the decision wasn’t contrary to those principles. It noted that Wife had little or no income – and therefore little or no ability to pay child support – and that she had only very limited contact with Child. The lower court also reserved jurisdiction over the case to consider altering the judgment in the future if Wife’s earning capacity changed. Wife had obtained a GED and was working toward an associate’s degree at the time.

Given her inability to work at present, the Court also said it was also appropriate to order Husband to pay Wife spousal support. The Court rejected Husband’s claim that Wife could go back to bartending. Instead it pointed to the “evidence of [Wife]’s poor health and lack of education, which together were sufficient to establish that [Wife] did not have the ability to work at a job which would require physical labor.”

If you’re considering seeking a divorce in California or grappling with child support and other issues after a divorce, contact San Jose divorce lawyer John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve spousal support and a wide variety of other issues on optimal terms. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

Related blog posts:

The Importance of Experienced Legal Representation in California Divorce Cases – In re Marriage of Franke

Spousal Support, Changes in Circumstances – In re Marriage of Wiles

What Happens to California Child Support Obligations When A Parent Dies? Sanchez v. Navarro