Aside from equitable distribution, divorce cases often involve three common financially-centered elements – alimony, child support, and attorney fees. The Wadsworth case argues all three of these issues and is an excellent example of how complicated these matters can be.
Wadsworth v. Wadsworth1 Case Background
Plaintiff and Defendant were married in 2001 and had three children together. During the course of the marriage, Defendant had two children as the result of an extramarital affair and sent child support payments to this other woman. The parties separated in 2013, and in 2017, Defendant had a third child with another woman while still married to Plaintiff. Plaintiff initiated divorce proceedings shortly after this child was born and filed for child support, alimony, and attorney fees.
The trial court granted all three of these requests. Further, the court ordered that Defendant maintain Plaintiff as the beneficiary on a life insurance policy to secure his support obligations and granted attorney fees for equitable distribution. Defendant appealed.
Defendant argued that the child support calculations, specifically the childcare expenses, were miscalculated by the trial court. He also challenged the lower court’s ruling on his children’s extraordinary expenses, including tutoring, camps, sports, and other extracurricular activities. Lastly, Defendant disagreed with child support arrearage calculations, believing that he should receive credit for the children’s expenses he paid for during the pendency of the case.
The Court of Appeals upheld each of these child support decisions made by the trial court. In North Carolina, extraordinary expenses can be included in support payments if the expenses are determined to be reasonable, necessary, and in the child’s best interest.2 Courts have the discretion to determine whether to adjust child support obligations to include such expenses.
The appeals court vacated the trial court’s portion of the order that required Defendant to maintain life insurance to secure his alimony payments. In support of this decision, the Court states that the life insurance policy did not qualify as security based on state statutes. In addition, alimony terminates upon the death of either spouse,3 so a life insurance benefit would be awarding a support payment to Plaintiff at a time when the support obligation would no longer exist.
While attorney fees can be recovered in certain matters, like child custody and alimony, the appeals court stated in Wadsworth that such fees cannot be recovered for equitable distribution matters. Because this case combined these issues, the Court of Appeals vacated and remanded this portion of the case for the trial court to recalculate the attorney fees award without the equitable distribution portion.
The Woodruff Family Law Group is comprised of experienced and trusted Greensboro divorce lawyers. We have extensive experience successfully representing clients in high-stakes and high-stress family law matters. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.