Case Notes: Voluntary Retirement and Child Support

The Pennsylvania Superior court recently dealt with the question of whether a police office voluntarily, retiring at 52, is entitled to lower his income (for child support purposes) to his pension level. The case is Smedley v. Lowman, 2 A.3d 1226 (Pa. Super 2010).

In Smedley, the retired police office was assessed an "earning capacity" of $200 per week, in addition to his pension income. Under Pennsylvania law, one cannot lower their income for support purposes through a "voluntary reduction of income". In other words, a support payer who quits a job making 80K per year will be kept at an 80K earning capacity, even if the new job only pays 30K per year.

The retired officer appealed the additional earning capacity to the Superior Court, arguing that his retirement was not a "voluntary reduction of income" because he was fully vested in his pension and did not retire "early". The Superior Court rejected this argument and upheld the imposition of the additional earning capacity to his income for support purposes. The Superior Court found that the retired officer had "voluntarily" left employment and that his retirement did not necessarily eliminate his earning capacity.

Proper representation in support cases requires experienced counsel. Support cases can be a complex mix between law and fact. For example, the Smedley case might have had a different outcome if the officer had retired at 62 or suffered from health issues.