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Vermont Supreme Court Further Clarifies How Lump Sum Derivative Disability Payments Affect Child Support Obligations

In LaMothe v. LeBlanc, 2015 VT 78 (June 12th, 2015), the Vermont Supreme Court upheld the superior court’s determination that the husband was not entitled to a reimbursement of excess derivative benefits given to their child, that the mother was not voluntarily under employed, that the benefits were not imputed income to the mother, and that the mother was properly granted a deviation from Vermont child support guidelines.

Issue: The parties in LaMothe v. LeBlanc are divorced. As part of their divorce settlement, the parties mutually agreed that neither would pay child support. In 2008, the father suffered a severe injury in an accident, and began receiving disability benefits. On account of the father’s injury, the mother received a $4,370 lump sum derivative disability payment for the parties’ son. The father asked the magistrate to impute the lump sum payment as income to the mother and to credit the payment to him as a contribute towards a joint dental bill incurred by the child. The father also challenged the magistrate’s order that declined to assess child support against the mother. The father’s appeal of all three issues was denied by the superior court, and the Supreme Court reviewed de novo.

Holding: Although the child’s dental bills during the relevant period were less than the $4,370 lump sum, the Court refused to require the mother to reimburse the excess benefit. The Court held that if it were to require the mother to reimburse the father for the extent the lump sum benefit exceeded his obligation, it would be retroactively modifying child support. The Court also denied the father’s other points on factual grounds, citing the difficult living conditions and limited wages earned by the mother.

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