Published on:

Evidence Eventually Must Support the Conclusions of Law

ICENHOUR V. ICENHOUR, 2023-NCCOA-______ (2023) (unpublished).

  • Facts: Plaintiff and Defendant were married in 1987 but separated in 2011. In 2012, they reached a consent judgment in which the Defendant agreed to pay $1,800 per month in alimony based on an annual income of $100,000. In 2014, the Defendant attempted to modify the alimony arrangement, but the court denied the motion, citing unchanged financial circumstances. In 2018, the Defendant, who was working as a transportation driver for Richard Petty Racing, filed another motion to modify alimony, claiming a reduced income and increased expenses due to rising rent, housing, and vehicle costs. Plaintiff initiated a show cause order against the Defendant for not fully paying alimony from January 2019. In January 2020, a memorandum of judgment led to a reduction of the Defendant’s monthly alimony obligation by $100. However, by mid-2020, the Defendant once again failed to fully pay alimony, prompting another show cause order. In December 2020, the Defendant filed another motion to modify alimony, stating he was furloughed and later terminated, incurring unforeseen expenses and borrowing against his retirement account. At a hearing in March 2022, Defendant testified about his employment history, reduced income, and efforts to secure new jobs. In June 2022, the court issued an Alimony Order, finding a substantial change in circumstances and reducing the Defendant’s monthly alimony obligation to $600. A Contempt Order was also issued, stating the Defendant’s arrearage and ordering him to pay $100 per month until the debt was cleared. Both parties appealed these orders.


  • Issue: Did the trial court err by finding a substantial change in circumstances?


  • Holding:


  • Rationale: It has long been held in North Carolina that a decrease in income alone is not a substantial change in circumstances that would allow a court to modify alimony. Both parties argued the same legal principle, that there were inadequate findings to support the conclusions. When determining whether a substantial change in circumstances occurred for alimony purposes, the court must relate the change to the financial needs of the dependent spouse or the supporting spouse’s ability to pay. Specifically, it requires the consideration of the estates, earnings, earning capacity, condition, and accustomed standard of living of the parties. While the court is not required to make all findings towards those factors, it must show that the relevant factors were considered and supported the conclusion. In the present case, the trial court made only four factual findings pertinent to its substantial change determination: (1) Defendant was furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic; (2) he was subsequently terminated without fault; (3) he is now employed by a NASCAR racing team; and (4) he is earning a gross annual income of approximately $70,000. These findings were not enough to support the conclusion that a substantial change had occurred, and they failed to reason why the court set a new alimony amount. It further stated that the record before the Court clearly showed that there was enough evidence to make the required findings. This is a case where the adage “show your work” seems to be applicable.