Craven County o/b/o Jessica L. Wooten v. Adel Hageb (No. COA20-442)
Defendant Adel Hageb (“Father”) and Plaintiff Jessica L. Wooten (“Mother”) were never married but were involved in a romantic relationship. Mother gave birth to a child in 2016 and another child in 2017. After it was determined that Adel was the biological father of both children, the court consolidated the two child support cases and ordered Father to provide health insurance coverage for both children and pay Mother $2,554.00 per month in child support. Then, on September 9, 2019, the issue of permanent child support came on for hearing. The court found Father to have a gross income of $19,454.39 per month. Additionally, although two children born of another relationship lived full-time with Father, the court gave Father credit for one child because Father’s name was not listed on the birth certificate of the other child. Father timely appealed.
Issues on appeal
(1) Did the trial court err in properly calculating Father’s gross monthly income; and
(2) Did the trial court err in failing to give Father credit for a biological child who resides in his home?
Held: Remanded for further findings of fact.
The Child Support Guidelines define “gross income” as “a parent’s actual gross income from any source, including but not limited to income from employment or self-employment . . . [or] ownership or operation of a business, partnership, or corporation[.]” N.C. Child Support Guidelines, at 3 (2019). If a party is self-employed, that party’s actual gross income is calculated by subtracting the “ordinary and necessary expenses required for self-employment or business operation” from the gross receipts.” Id. Father argued that the court erred by not deducting straight-line depreciation as an ordinary and necessary business expense. According to the Guidelines, the trial court has “the discretion to deduct from a parent’s monthly gross income the amount of straight-line depreciation allowed by the Internal Revenue Code.” Id. In this case, the trial court did not make sufficient findings of fact for the appellate court to effectively review its calculation of Father’s gross monthly self-employment income. Therefore, this issue was remanded for the trial court to calculate Father’s gross monthly income pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines and make sufficient findings of fact related to the court’s calculations.
Additionally, the Child Support Guidelines provide that “[a] parent’s financial responsibility . . . for his or her natural or adopted children who currently reside with the parent (other than children for whom child support is being determined in the pending action) is deducted from the parent’s gross income.” N.C. Child Support Guidelines, at 4. The appellate court recognizes that evidence other than a parent’s name on a child’s birth certificate is sufficient to establish parentage. Father testified that he is the biological child of both parents living in his home, yet at trial he got credit for only one child, not both. The trial court did not specifically specify its reasoning for not giving Father credit for both children living in his home. Therefore, the appellate court also remanded this issue for the trial court to make specific findings as to why Father was not given credit for the other child residing in his home.
Child support calculations can be tedious and intricate, especially when one parent is self-employed. However, the trial court must make specific findings regarding its calculations of a parent’s gross monthly income for the order to withstand appeal. Additionally, suppose the trial court opts not to give a parent credit for a child living with him. In that case, the trial court must also state with particularity the reason for doing so, especially when a parent testifies that a child is his biological child and lives with him full-time.