Quantifying Child Support

April 27, 2020 § 2 Comments

It is well-established in our law that a court-imposed life insurance obligation must be in an amount reasonably relative to the obligation secured by it. For instance, a $1,000,000 policy to secure a $500 monthly alimony obligation would be unreasonable.

In his divorce from Allison Gaskin, Tony Gaskin was ordered to keep in effect an existing life policy “with death benefits of at least $900,000 … to guarantee the support of the minor boys.” Was that reasonable? Tony didn’t think so, because he calculated child support to total only around $357,000. So he appealed.

In Gaskin v. Gaskin, handed down April 14, 2020, the COA affirmed. Judge Cory Wilson’s opinion for the unanimous court:

¶15. In the final judgment, the chancellor ordered Tony to maintain his existing Farm Bureau Life Insurance policy “with death benefits of at least $900,000 during the boys’ minority.” The chancellor required continuation of the policy “to guarantee the support of the minor boys,” specifying that the “boys shall be listed as the primary beneficiaries until both boys’ emancipation or until further order of [the court].” Tony contends that the chancellor’s ruling was in error. Tony reasons that because the life insurance was to “guarantee the support of the minor boys,” the policy’s death benefits should mirror the total amount of Tony’s remaining child support obligations. In monetary terms, Tony calculates that he should only have to maintain a policy with death benefits of $357,115.40, an amount equal to the child support Tony contends he will pay until the boys’ emancipations. [Fn 8] Tony thus contends that the chancellor abused his discretion by requiring that Tony maintain an insurance policy with death benefits in excess of the amount needed to support the boys in the event of his untimely death.

[Fn 8] At the time of the parties’ divorce, the minor boys were thirteen and sixteen years old. To calculate policy death benefits at $357,115.40, Tony posits that support for the older boy would continue for forty months and support for the younger boy would continue for ninety months, until their respective emancipations. Tony multiplies the current child support for the two boys by forty, which totals $96,686.40. He then adds the amount of child support that he would have to pay for his younger son, presumably half of the current amount, for the remaining fifty months until he is emancipated, which equals $60,429. He then adds $100,000 for each child to cover college expenses. These amounts yield Tony’s asserted $357,115.40 in outstanding child-support obligations.

¶16. In support of his position, Tony relies on Daniels v. Bains, 967 So. 2d 77 (Miss. Ct. App. 2007). In Daniels, the appellant contended that the county court erred in ordering him to purchase a $500,000 life insurance policy for the benefit of his daughter. Id. at 83 (¶20). Daniels argued that the $500,000 policy was excessive because he would only be paying $273,600 in support until his daughter’s emancipation. Id. But we found “Daniels’s attempt to quantify a father’s support [ ] unpersuasive” and determined that the chancellor did not abuse his discretion in ordering Daniels to maintain a life insurance policy for his minor daughter. Id. at 83-84 (¶¶21-22).

¶17. As in Daniels, we find Tony’s attempt to quantify his child support obligations unpersuasive. “Parents may be ordered to pay additional amounts over and above child support for additional expenses such as ‘health insurance, out-of-pocket medical and other health-related expenses, life insurance, and expenses of a college education.’” Id. at 83 (¶21) (quoting Deborah H. Bell, Bell on Mississippi Family Law § 10.07, at 309 (1st ed. 2005)). “[A] father’s support is not fully appreciable in a simple financial cost-benefit analysis”; to the contrary, “a father’s overall support transcends mere financial support.” Id. at 84 (¶22). We thus find that the chancellor did not abuse his discretion in ordering Tony to maintain a $900,000 life insurance policy prior to his boys’ emancipations.

In other words, a father’s support is more than a pay day, or is intended in our law to be. It is love, companionship, moral and character building, modelling fatherhood and family relationships, teaching skills, and even more. How do we place a value on that?

Alimony is a whole ‘nother ball of wax, as the court points out in footnote 9, page 9.

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§ 2 Responses to Quantifying Child Support

  • Zeke Downey says:

    Judge, you comment that a father’s obligation is more than a payday and can’t be valued in monetary terms. But the power of the court doesn’t allow it to enforce love, guidance, etc., which is why we find it so frustrating to handle domestic matters and our clients are often unhappy. So why obligate a man financially to guarantee payment of a monetary amount for things that cannot be valued financially? Either the man will take his boys hunting, teach them how to work on machinery or whatever or he won’t, assuming they want to be around him. That said, if I were the Court of Appeals, I’d be slow to reverse John Grant, because he was a damn good chancellor who tried to follow the evidence and law. I can say that now that he’s no longer on the bench.

  • BowTieLawyer says:

    This is a great example, I think, of the Court’s discretion. Had the Court ordered a lesser number it likewise would have been upheld. The Chancery Court could have easily determined $500k was sufficient. I think this is the great part of Chancery, as well as a source of frustration.

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