Valvo v. Valvo

Docket NumberCV-22-2062
Decision Date06 July 2023
PartiesIn the Matter of Frank S. Valvo III, Appellant, v. Patricia J. Valvo, Respondent.
CourtNew York Supreme Court — Appellate Division

Calendar Date: June 8, 2023

Smith Dominelli & Guetti LLC, Albany (Jennifer L. Dominelli of counsel), for appellant.

Gordon, Tepper & DeCoursey, LLP, Glenville (Jennifer Powers Rutkey of counsel), for respondent.

Before: Garry, P.J., Egan Jr., Pritzker, Reynolds Fitzgerald and McShan, JJ.

McShan, J.

Appeal from an order of the Family Court of Saratoga County (Amy J. Knussman, J.), entered May 19, 2022, which, in a proceeding pursuant to Family Ct Act article 4, among other things, partially granted respondent's objections to an order of a Support Magistrate.

Petitioner (hereinafter the father) and respondent (hereinafter the mother) were divorced in 2012 following a 23-year marriage. The judgment of divorce incorporated, but did not merge, a prior separation agreement that contained provisions for maintenance and child support for the parties' three children (born in 1994, 1999 and 2003). The separation agreement directed the father to pay $1,840.41 biweekly in maintenance and $1,245.34 biweekly in child support. In June 2018, the father sought to modify his maintenance and child support obligations. The Support Magistrate (Densmore, S.M.), among other things, reduced the father's child support obligation to $250 biweekly until February 2020, at which point the obligation would decrease to $200 biweekly, and left the maintenance obligation unchanged.

In August 2020, the father filed the instant petition seeking to modify his maintenance and child support obligations, alleging that his income had decreased since the time of the parties' divorce. [1] The father requested that both the judgment of divorce and the 2018 order be modified to reflect a substantial reduction in salary that occurred in 2020. At the conclusion of the hearings on that petition, the Support Magistrate determined that the father had demonstrated an extreme hardship to justify a reduction in spousal support and, thus, reduced his maintenance obligation and ordered a corresponding increase in his child support obligation. The mother filed objections arguing that it was an error to modify the maintenance and child support as the father did not prove that an extreme hardship had occurred since the 2018 order, and the father submitted a rebuttal. Upon its review, Family Court granted the mother's objection, determining, among other things, that the father had failed to demonstrate an extreme hardship warranting modification of his maintenance obligations, but that he had demonstrated a sufficient change in income to warrant modification of his child support obligations. Accordingly, Family Court directed that the prior maintenance obligation be reinstated and remanded the matter to the Support Magistrate to determine the appropriate modification to the father's child support obligation, along with a corresponding reacalculation of any maintenance and child support arrears. The father appeals.

"Where, as here, the parties' settlement agreement was incorporated into the judgment of divorce, no modification as to maintenance shall be made without a showing of extreme hardship" (Matter of Cranston v Horton, 99 A.D.3d 1090, 1091 [3d Dept 2012]; see Domestic Relations Law § 236 [B] [9] [b] [1]; McKay v McKay, 105 A.D.3d 1296, 1297 [3d Dept 2013], lv dismissed 22 N.Y.3d 892 [2013]; Morrissey v Morrissey, 61 A.D.3d 1089, 1091 [3d Dept 2009]; Hawley v Hawley, 247 A.D.2d 806, 807 [3d Dept 1998]). The party seeking modification of a maintenance provision must clearly and convincingly establish the requisite change in circumstances (see Deanna [B.]J. v Donald M.B., 49 A.D.3d 1347, 1347 [4th Dept 2008]; Watrous v Watrous, 292 A.D.2d 691, 692 [3d Dept 2002]; Matter of Barrett v Barrett, 281 A.D.2d 799, 801 [3d Dept 2001]) and the determination on whether he or she has done so is "addressed to the discretion of the trial court, with each case turning on its particular facts" (Hickman v Hickman, 204 A.D.3d 1116, 1117 [3d Dept 2022] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; see Ryan v Ryan, 197 A.D.3d 869, 869-870 [4th Dept 2021], lv dismissed & denied 38 N.Y.3d 1054 [2022]). In conducting our review, we accord the appropriate deference to the credibility determinations of the Support Magistrate and Family Court (see Saber v Saccone, 192 A.D.3d 1400, 1402 [3d Dept 2021], lvs denied 37 N.Y.3d 909 [2021]; see also Matter of Latimer v Cartin, 57 A.D.3d 1264, 1265 [3d Dept 2008]).

At the outset, we agree with Family Court that we must assess whether the father established an extreme hardship by measuring the change in circumstances from the 2018 order entered upon consent of the parties, as the father sought modification of that order in his petition and it remains the effective order concerning his support obligations (see Rabinovich v Shevchenko, 120 A.D.3d 786, 786 [2d Dept 2014]; Taylor v Taylor, 107 A.D.3d 785, 786 [2d Dept 2013]; Rooney v Rooney, 99 A.D.3d 785, 785 [2d Dept 2012]; see also Trexler v Kahanovitz, 41 A.D.3d 161 161 [1st Dept 2007]; Alexander v Alexander, 134 A.D.2d 796, 797 [3d Dept 1987]). To that end, since the entry of the 2018 order, the father's prior employer, after initially reducing his salary, terminated his employment in October 2020, for reasons not attributable to his job performance. Nevertheless, the record establishes that, although the father began searching for jobs in November 2020, he was notified in September 2020 of his impending termination, and he did not submit any employment applications until January 2021. Moreover, the father indicated that he had limited his search to jobs that corresponded with his "software skill set," however, the record reveals that he possessed a Bachelor's degree in accounting and had not pursued any opportunities that were primarily in that field. The father also testified that he did not file for unemployment benefits because he was concerned that he would lose his government security clearance, but he offered no concrete basis for his belief and, moreover, he acknowledged that his failure to meet his child support obligations also put his clearance at risk. Accordingly, we agree with Family Court that the father's support for his alleged hardship is at least partially attributable to his self-imposed limitations on potential employment and reluctance to take advantage of any unemployment benefits he may have been entitled to (see Hall v Hall, 22 A.D.3d 979, 981 [3d Dept 2005]; see also Hickman v Hickman, 204 A.D.3d at 1117-1118; Matter of Rodriguez v Mendoza-Gonzalez, 96 A.D.3d 766, 767 [2d Dept 2012]). [2] Further, we discern no error in Family Court's consideration of the...

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