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Stewart v. Gomez, 47 Cal.App.4th 1748 (1996)
Can free housing be considered income? Yes, in some cases. In Stewart v. Gomez, the trial court threw in everything but the kitchen sink to calculate support. Robert Stewart was receiving disability, living rent-free on an Indian reservation, and he received a $12 per day meal allowance while attending a vocational training program for 3 months. The court decided all of these counted as income and threw a minimum wage earning capacity on top, with no abuse of discretion.
The $150 per month fair market value of Stewart’s rent-free housing on the reservation as well as the $12 per day meal allowance counted as “employee benefits or self-employment benefits, taking into consideration the benefit to the employee, any corresponding reduction in living expenses” under Family Code section 4058(a)(3). Since the $150 per month value of his housing and the $12 per day meal allowance would count as income if they were coming from an employer, the Stewart court counted them here. Stewart claimed his income was $280/month, with $80 in food stamps and expenses of $280/month. The deputy district attorney said his income was $641 per month of permanent disability benefits. His support obligation was set at $190 per month, with custody of the children 45% of the time. How this court could pretend Stewart had the ability to earn minimum wage when he was disabled is unknown. It should be noted that this is a welfare case, and usually these benefits are only used as income when they are employment benefits.
All of these cases show how much discretion the trial court has to exercise. The definition of discretion is “The freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation.” Family law courts have some freedom to decide what should be done in each case.
Editor’s note: This is a welfare case, where the mother and children were receiving aid from the state. In cases like this, the state has a vested interest in collecting support to reduce the amount of aid paid out. Welfare cases have even more discretion than non-welfare cases, though this is a particularly liberal outcome.
Come back soon to find out if becoming a monk will lower your support payments.