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Authored By:  Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a.  " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "

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Dad doesn’t want his perks to count in calculating child support

[ Begin Excerpt ]

A father of two says his employer-paid perks including a Lexus automobile, cellphone and four season tickets to Ohio State University football games should not be included as part of his income when calculating how much he must pay in child support.

Jeffrey Morrow, president of the Ohio College of Massotherapy in Akron, wants the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn decisions by two lower courts. He argues that only in limited circumstances does state law require inclusion of company-paid benefits.

Some justices seemed dubious during arguments before the court yesterday.

About “$16,000 worth of stuff comes to him. ... Everybody else pays for it; he gets it for free,” Justice William M. O’Neill said.

In 2010, Morrow asked the Medina County Domestic Relations Court for a reduction in his $2,198-a-month child support because his annual earnings had dropped by about half, to $75,000, since he split several years earlier from Sherri P. Becker, the mother of his two children. The two were never married.

According to court records, Morrow had been earning about $143,000 as an administrator at the college and owner of an online subsidiary but claimed that declining enrollment necessitated his salary cut. The court refused Morrow’s request — a decision later affirmed by the 9th District Court of Appeals — finding his gross income did not warrant a change.

[End of Excerpt]  See The Columbus Dispatch


Insights by Author:  Christopher Pearsall

Whoa Now!  I know this is not Rhode Island law we're talking about but even as a matter of common sense I had to address this one.  Can Ohio be that far off the mark?  The second to the last line of the entire article stopped me cold.  It was by one of the justices and stated as follows:

"To have us decide the way you want us to decide it, we would be putting out a case that none of that counts.”

That's right judge!  It would.  Yet you make it sound like what Mr. Morrow's attorney is asking you to do is something inconceivable.  Frankly, without proof of some actual collusion here.... that makes perfect sense to me.

Let's look at this plainly.  His income gets cut from $143,000 to $75,000 and you don't think that warrants a reduction in child support?  We're not talking about a pittance here!  That is almost half of his income!!

So what's the basis for making such a statement?  Do you just think that he's trying to stiff the mother of child support for the children?  That seems to be what the Ohio attorney for the mother is trying to allege by bringing up circumstantial evidence that Morrow isn't just an employee but he's on the board of directors with his Uncle and his mother actually founded the school.  So is there collusion here for this guy to trade income for perks from the school by using family influence?  Is that what the judge what thinking in denying the reduction of child support when the income was cut in half allegedly because enrollment was down?

So what was done here?  Was there any proof of collusion that family ties worked to intentionally cut Morrow's income?  Was there any evidence as to whether the enrollment was down or how the finances of the school were doing?  Or is it all suspicion and conjecture because he received about $16,000 in perks from the school that other people at the school normally had to pay for?  Was Mr. Morrow found to be inconsistent in his testimony so that he was no credible?  Or did the judge just not like the way he was dressed on a particular day?

I'm well aware that in Rhode Island some men do pull this crap by being chummy with their boss or they are part of a family corporation so they try to help the son or brother or uncle out.  I'm not strickly an advocate for men.  Not by any means.  I've represented plenty of women who have placement of the children and I can see the guy is trying to (and this is the correct way to phrase it... at least in my humble opinion) screw the children out of the support they are entitled to.

Yet I have an issue with the way in which this was addressed.  Assuming that the newspaper quoted the judge correctly.... then it most certainly is more than enough evidence and basis to grant a reduction in child support if the man paying it receives half of his original income.  If you don't find it believable that this is the case, then I suppose it is the judge's right to use his or her discretion to make a judgment regarding the credibility of any witness and how much weight the person's testimony is to be given.  However, if there can truly be a reduction shown and there is no actual proof that it is by collusion with family members, then frankly I don't think so much weight can be placed against testimony for this man that it negates a $60,000+ drop in income.  

That's not a basis for a reduction?  Okay.... I wasn't there... but I've seen this before and I'd be willing to bet it's just a gut feeling by this judge and perhaps not based on any "actual proof" that points to an intentional attempt by Mr. Morrow to sidestep his child support obligation.

Should a car and some other pluses that the school pays for be considered in his income for purposes of child support?  The justification seems to be that others are paying for these things but the school is paying for it for this guy so it should be "other income."  That's what is being argued... namely, that it IS "other income" and it should fall within their state's child support statute.

Judge, did you hear testimony as to whether the school takes the car, etc... as school business deductions, or notes them as expenses?  Did you hear whether or not the vehicle is in this man's name or whether it is available for his personal and business use?  Tax treatment by the school should make a huge difference as to whether it truly is "other income."  If it amounts to $16,000 as the article notes, that still falls far shy of the $60,000+ in income he lost.  Yet no relief at all is to be awarded to Mr. Morrow?  Wow... that makes the standard huge for anyone to attain in your eyes.

Here's my greatest problem with things like this.  They are just like the benefits that many of the firemen and police officers have that I have represented.  The women who have placement of the children want to include everything.

Here's the real kicker in my humble opinion.  How can a fireman or police officer use their daily uniforms and gear to pay their child support?  If they get a mandatory pension payment each year that they can't touch, how can they spend that to pay their child support?  What about the educational payments these civil servants receive when special training classes are paid for them?  Can these be used for child support?  None of these things are liquid.  None of these things can be touched when you want them.  95% of  the time unless a pension is vested there is no way our civil servants can even get at these "things of value" to pay additional child support when the court decides to throw these things in.  It's absurd.  The court could actually be subjecting then to receiving benefits instead of actual pay to live on without a choice at all.

Okay... I'm off the bandwagon.  It makes no sense to me.  Items of value that can't be liquidated can't be used to pay the child support and leave less disposable income for the payor to survive on.   

Judges, keep in mind... the payor still needs to live too.


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