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In a case of first impression, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled that a set of support guidelines in the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure was “not designed to calculate spousal support in high-income families where after-tax income exceeds $15,000 per month” and therefore cannot be used in such cases. Instead, family courts will have to use a “reasonable needs” analysis outlined in a 1984 Supreme Court decision to calculate the appropriate support amounts. Senior Judge Phyllis W. Beck wrote the majority opinion in Mascaro v. Mascaro, which was joined by Judge Correale F. Stevens. Judge Justin M. Johnson filed a 10-page dissent, strongly disagreeing with several of the majority’s conclusions. Since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court amended the rules that make up the support guidelines in 1998 — rescinding and replacing some of them — the treatment of spousal support in families with after-tax income exceeding $15,000 per month had not come under judicial scrutiny. The guidelines were also silent on their applicability in such a scenario. Appellant Rosemary Mascaro argued that the trial court, which made an unallocated support award to her of $13,000 per month for spousal and child support in response to her petition for the same, erred when it calculated the spousal support on the basis of factors outlined in Melzer v. Witsberger, a 1984 state Supreme Court decision. Melzer concerned the relevant variables for a “reasonable needs” analysis in computing a child-support award. The case said those factors are the dollar amount of the child’s reasonable needs and the amount of income available after the deduction of each parent’s reasonable expenses. Rosemary Mascaro argued that the Melzer factors apply to high-income child-support cases but not to high-income spousal support, which she said should be evaluated using the mathematical guideline formula in Pennsylvania civil procedure rule 1910.16-4(a). Appellee Joseph Mascaro argued that the Melzer “reasonable needs” analysis should be followed instead. Both parties cited prior decisions of the court that the panel rejected, stating that no prior decision had “directly decided the issue” and that much of what the parties cited to support their positions was simply dicta. DETERMINING SUPPORT “In the absence of a statement in the guidelines themselves that they are applicable, we conclude they are not,” wrote Beck. “To conclude otherwise would result in awards that were not contemplated by the model which underpins the guideline system.” Generally under Pennsylvania law, she said, support awards are based on the reasonable needs of the child or spouse receiving support and the ability of the obligor to pay. The equality principle — that similarly situated individuals shall be treated similarly — is also a factor in support awards, she said. The guidelines were established to ensure that the reasonable needs of the parties are met. The mathematical formula in the statutory guidelines only addresses child support and not spousal support. It covers families with a monthly income from $600 to $15,000 and is based on economic data drawn from national studies of household expenditures in intact families by income level. The court’s job was to determine whether this could be analogous to determine spousal support in high-income cases. But the language in the statute wasn’t clear enough for the court to make that leap, said Beck, who added, “Our research has not revealed any data in the guidelines model that make … [it] applicable to spousal support. “In such high-income cases, the determination of spousal support, as in high-income child support cases, must be based on the factors found in Melzer.” ALLOCATION The monthly income of the Mascaros was $52,000. After conducting a Melzer reasonable-needs analysis, the trial court judge awarded a $13,000 support award for the wife and child. The unallocated (as between wife and child) monthly lump sum was proper, Beck said, since Rosemary Mascaro had no income attributable to her. The court declined to decide whether a combined-needs analysis was applicable where both parents are required to contribute to child support. Rosemary Mascaro claimed the court erred in failing to establish the “presumptive minimum” amount of support for the child in her unallocated order for $13,000. The presumptive minimum amount protects the child in a high-income family from falling below the amount of support a lower-income child within the guidelines analysis would receive. The court said while it may be desirable for a judge to explain the presumptive minimum in her final order, it was not necessary to do so and that the judge had used a presumptive minimum of $1,150 in her calculations. DISSENT Johnson expressed strong disagreement with the majority’s determination, claiming that it wished to “supplant the [mandated] procedure … by an ad hoc needs-based analysis.” He also pointed out several parts of Rule 1910.16-4 where spousal support was specifically mentioned, adding that courts were required to consider the rule after determining a presumptive minimum for spousal support. “The language of these rules is mandatory,” he wrote. “Despite the unambiguous language of these rules, the Majority concludes that because the guidelines do not expressly state that they are applicable to ‘high-income families,’ the guidelines should not be applied where the net monthly income exceeds $15,000 per month. … “This statement completely ignores the procedure mandated by Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-1(d) that ‘the support guidelines are a rebuttable presumption and must be applied taking into consideration the special needs and obligations of the parties.’ “ “The guidelines require the trier of fact to consider the specific circumstances of each case to determine whether a deviation from the presumptive minimum is warranted. “Thus, the Majority’s concern that the application of the guidelines in cases involving ‘high-income families’ may result in awards that are not contemplated by the guidelines is unfounded.”

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