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Schmidt v. McCulloch-Schmidt, 86 Mass.App.Ct. 902, 11 N.E. 3d 1099 (2014)

In Schmidt v. McCulloch-Schmidt, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that the plaintiff/father was not entitled to a dollar-for-dollar reduction in child support for dependency benefits that the mother received as part of her Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits. The Appeals Court, however, affirmed that said benefits should be included as part of the mother’s gross income.

The parties were divorced in 2006 and had one child. Following the divorce, the mother began receiving monthly SSDI benefits for herself and an additional monthly SSDI dependency benefit for the child. In 2012, the father sought a modification to reduce his child support due to his decreased business income. Following trial in 2013, the judge applied the 2009 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. When calculating child support the judge included the mother’s SSDI benefits and the SSDI dependency benefits she received for the child in the mother’s gross income. Although child support was decreased, the judge declined to give the father a dollar-for-dollar credit/reduction for the SSDI dependency benefits. The father appealed.

On appeal, the father asserted that under Rosenberg v. Merida, 428 Mass. 182, 697 N.E. 2d 987 (1998) he was entitled to a dollar-for-dollar credit for the amount of the SSDI benefits the mother received on behalf of the minor child. In Rosenberg, the Supreme Judicial Court considered whether a noncustodial parent receiving SSDI should receive a credit for the SSDI dependency benefits paid to the custodial parent. The Supreme Judicial Court concluded in Rosenberg that the noncustodial parent should receive a credit since the child’s entitlement to payments derives from the noncustodial parent. In Schmidt, however, the Massachusetts Appeals Court determined that: "this case presents the inverse factual scenario." Namely, it was the custodial mother who was receiving the SSDI benefits. As a result, the Appeals Court concluded that it was correct for the judge to include said benefits in the mother’s gross income when calculating support under the guidelines. However, the Court held that the father was not entitled to a further dollar-for-dollar credit in the amount of the SSDI dependency benefits. The Appeals Court held that such a credit is appropriate where it is the non-custodial parent who receives SSDI because the inclusion of the benefit resulted in an increase (not decrease) in child support. As a result, the Appeals Court affirmed the judgment.