Child Support – Show the Work
Price v. Price, 2022-NCCOA-928 (unpublished).
Facts: In April of 2020, Mother filed a motion to modify child support. A hearing on that motion was eventually calendared for November of 2020.
In the meantime, Father had fired his attorney. Father did not show up for the modification hearing, and the trial court proceeded without him. Mother introduced evidence of Father’s income by producing in court his 2019 W2 showing a gross income of $251,918.59. Mother also produced records that Father was receiving $1500 a week in disability insurance between October of 2019 and April 2020 which was thought to be in addition to his income. Mother’s income was only $685.44 a week from her work.
For child support purposes, the trial court made a finding of fact that Father’s gross monthly income from all sources was $29,534.89. Father was ordered to pay $2,280.00 per month in child support and arrears between 1 May 2020 and 30 January 2021, and a portion of some uninsured medical expenses that accrued. Father appealed.
Issue: Did the trial court err in calculating Father’s income?
Reasoning: The Court of Appeals first addressed the standard of review for reviewing the lower court’s determination of income.
At the outset, the question is whether income for child support purposes is a finding of fact or a conclusion of law and whether that means that the standard of review should be de novo. The Court here affirmed again that a trial court’s determination on child support income is a conclusion of law that is reviewed de novo. The Court then footnotes that, in this case, the difference is practically immaterial, as the same result would occur under both standards of review.
The major error was that the trial court’s determination on Father’s income was approximately $2,000 higher than what the evidence showed. The math by the Court of Appeals, based on those records at trial, showed that Father’s income amounted to $27,462.17 per month. Nothing in the record explained the discrepancy. Nothing could show where the additional $2,000 could have come from. Mathematical correctness is binary, not a spectrum; it affords little distinction between a conclusion that is simply erroneous and a conclusion that is “manifestly unsupported by reason.”
Notes: The Court was blunt. Erroneous math equals an erroneous Order. Income for child support purposes is a legal matter as well as a mathematical one. The legal portion of what income can be comprised of may be argued and interpreted in various ways, but once that is settled the math must add up correctly.