Stekr v. Beecham – Deviation from Child Support Guidelines

When family courts are weighing how much a parent should pay in child support, they doesn’t simply look at each party’s pay stubs. Typically, the courts conduct a detailed analysis that includes consideration of:

  • Salaries and wages
  • Income from overtime and second jobs
  • Investment and interest income
  • Pension income
  • Trust or estate income
  • Annuities
  • Capital gains
  • Social Security benefits
  • Veterans’ benefits
  • Military personnel fringe benefits
  • National Reserve and drill pay
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Unemployment
  • Disability insurance benefits
  • Prizes and gifts (including gambling and lottery winnings)
  • Income of a new spouse
  • Alimony received from another
  • Real estate income

As our Gary, Indiana child support lawyers can explain, this kind of analysis can lead to unexpected results. It’s imperative to have strong legal representation to ensure your rights and financial future are protected. This is especially important because once the amount is set, obtaining a reversal or modification can be very difficult.

Although there are child support guidelines set for each state, judges have the option to deviate from those guidelines in certain circumstances. This was the case in the Nebraska Supreme Court case of Stekr v. Beecham. Here, it was a non-income real estate property that prompted the court to deviate. The moving party, the father, appealed this decision, but the state supreme court affirmed.

According to court records, the couple in question divorced in 2001 and at that time, the court granted custody of the couple’s daughter to her mother. Father, meanwhile, was ordered to pay $985 monthly in child support. That obligation was raised to $1,800 in 2007.

Three years later, father filed a motion to modify child support, asserting his income had decreased. The court referred the case to a referee (an attorney appointed by judges to act as a judicial hearing officer in certain cases).

At the hearing, father testified that he worked trading and selling bonds and mortgage-backed securities, and had done so since the early 1990s. For about five years, he worked for a large firm, and had the opportunity to earn substantial commissions. One years, his gross income was $130,000. The following year, it was $330,000. The year after that, it was nearly $350,000.

But then, he was laid off. He later found another job with an annual salary of $60,000, and was given a bonus of 5 percent.

He is also the sole shareholder of a small asset management company that has a single asset: A “spec home.” He built it back in 2007, and the goal was to flip it and make money. However, the real estate market collapsed around the same time, so selling proved difficult.

Originally, he listed the house for $950,000. Then he dropped it to $825,000 and, as of the hearing, it was down to less than $800,000. The mortgage on the property was $690,000, and he’d personally made those payments since the house was finished – about $2,400 to $2,600 monthly. No one had ever lived in or rented the home.

Husband also owns two other homes.

Meanwhile, mother lives in Nebraska with her new husband and is a stay-at-home parent.

At the hearing, the referee pointed out that the father was paying monthly mortgages on the home, and pointed out that “the money is coming from somewhere,” and that if he has access to that money, it should be spent on the child.

Father countered it was derived mostly from savings, which were depleted.

Ultimately, the referee recommended the court dismiss father’s complaint for child support modification. Although noting he could be entitle to a modification under the normal guidelines, the referee argued the case was outside the normal financial framework because of father’s real estate holdings. The state supreme court affirmed.

Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:

Stekr v. Beecham,  Sept. 25, 2015, Nebraska Supreme Court

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