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Wilson v. Shea and the Importance of Travel Expenses in Child Support

by | Dec 7, 2021 | Child Support

When deciding a child support order, courts are often tasked with considering a multitude of factors. These include looking at both parties’ sources of income, expenses, and unique lifestyle routines. One such lifestyle factor and expense the court had to consider was travel and its effect on child support in the case, Wilson v. Shea (2001) 87 Cal. App. 4th 887.

FACTS OF THE CASE

The California Court of Appeal heard the Wilson case, after it made its way up from a move-away and child support order in the trial court. The mother in Wilson relocated from California to South Carolina with the parties’ child, disallowing the father to travel with the child to see his side of the family. The mother’s conduct continually pushed the father away until he did not see the child for three years. However, during this time, the father voluntarily paid the mother $300 per month to support their child. The trial court thereafter made a formal child support order of $650 per month, based on a Dissomaster calculation. When the case came to trial, the trial court entered a judgment based on the previous Dissomaster calculation, rather than recalculating the guideline child support under Family Code section 4055. The judge additionally ordered that $150 of the $650 per month for child support be deducted and put into a travel fund, controlled by the father.

ISSUES AND DECISION

There were 3 issues brought by the mother on appeal. Below are the issues and decisions of the court summarized.

Was the judge obligated to recalculate child support under the guidelines?

Yes. Family Code section 4050 states that a guideline must be calculated for child support.

Did the judge not properly explain his reasoning for deviating from the recalculating under the guidelines?

Yes. Under Family Code section 4056, the court must state the amount child support would have been under the guideline formula, including stating its reasoning for departing from the formula and a justification for doing so based on the “best interests of the children.” Here, the appellate court noted that the trial court’s consideration of the “sheer distance and daunting logistics” of the move, in addition to the mother’s attempts to keep the father away, were sufficient to satisfy the reasoning requirements under the Family Code.

Did the judge make an error by allowing the father to deduct $150 per month from child support payments for travel expenses?

No. Family Code section 4062, subdivision (b)(2) provides that the court may order travel expenses for visitation as additional child support. The court also noted that circumstances not mentioned in the Family Code could also be considered in reducing the guideline amount. The court thought it important to promote the “frequent and continuing contact” between both parents, and it thought it important to allow “flexibility” in letting the noncustodial parent control the travel fund money.

The judgment was reversed.

KEY TAKE-AWAYS

Dissomaster calculations are most often at the center of a child support order. They provide a solid guideline for the parents and the court. Also important is the “best interests of the child” standard, which is decided based on considering a multitude of factors in the parents’ and child’s lives. Remember, the court wants what is best for the child at the end of the day, and that usually includes allowing them to have a relationship with both parents and live well.

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