Ainsworth v. Ainsworth
154 Vt. 103 (1990)

Facts:

  • The parties were divorced on April 30, 1986 and stipulated that Mr. Ainsworth was to pay child support in the amount of $70 per week.
  • Mr. Ainsworth remarried on August 15, 1987, and established a new home with his wife and her son at that time.
  • On September 21, 1987, Ms. Ainsworth filed a motion for modification, seeking increased support.

History:
Lower court entered a departure from guideline amount and increased the support obligation to $90 a week from $70 per week.

Issues:
(1) Whether the trial court may deviate from child support amounts calculated under the guidelines when defendant is supporting children in a second family.
(2) If the answer to the first question is yes, whether the power to deviate applies if the children in the second family are stepchildren and not natural children.
(3) If the answer to the first two questions is yes, whether the actual order in this case was within the discretion of the trial court.

Holdings:
(1) Yes.
(2) Yes.
(3) Reversed and remanded.

Reasoning:
(1) A trial court may deviate from child support amounts calculated under the child support guidelines when a spouse is supporting children in a second marriage.

  • “The use of the term ‘inequitable’ must give the trial court authority to look at whether a guideline-based amount is just under the circumstances.”

(2) A trial court’s power to deviate from child support amounts calculated under the guidelines applies if the children in the second family are stepchildren and not natural children.

  • The stepparent support statute states that the duty it imposes is “coextensive” with the duty to support a natural child.
    • Prof: This case was very dependent on this statute.
  • The general obligation to support spouses extends to defendant’s second spouse.

(3) A trial court’s findings and conclusions must show it considered the factors specified in guidelines statute as well as other relevant factors and must show the reasons for the deviation from the guidelines in the amount of support ordered.

  • Here, “because the findings and conclusions do not specify the reasons for the amount of support awarded and show consideration of the statutory factors, we must reverse and remand for a new hearing.”