The parties were granted a divorce in 2011. In the divorce decree, the trial court awarded the parties joint custody for their four minor children; however, the divorce decree failed to award child support to either party. In 2013, the trial court entered a judgment pursuant to an agreement from the parties. Under the terms and conditions of the agreement, the father would pay $500 per month in child support.
In 2014, the father filed a petition seeking to modify child custody, child support, and to have the mother held in contempt for alleged violations of certain provisions of a previous judgment. Following the petition filed by the father, the mother answered and filed a counterclaim. At trial, evidence was introduced that indicated at the time of the July 2013 modification order, the father was employed by a defense contractor earning $100,000 per year. He lost this job in March 2014.
During March 2014 to August 2014 the father was unemployed. Shortly after, the Father gained employment as a high school science teacher and earned “around the mid-thirties” every year. The father was then shortly forced to resign after engaging in a wrestling match with a student. After resigning, the father then took a job selling generators.
The father stipulated that from January 2015 to June 2015 he made $7,600. The mother in this case is a nurse earning $3,000 per month. After the father lost his job, the mother had to start working nights and the children were in the father’s care for 75 percent of the time. The trial court entered a child support arrearage order against the father in the amount of $11,721.88. Also, the trial court refused to modify the father’s child support obligation. Accordingly, the father appealed.
Whenever a party is seeking to modify a child support judgment, the party must prove that there exists a material change of circumstances. The father’s income decreased significantly from the original $100,000 salary determination at the time of the July 2013 modification hearing. However, a significant decrease in income does not always amount to material change in circumstances.
In this case there was evidence presented before the court that demonstrated that the father was voluntarily unemployed that favored the trial courts ruling. However, the trial court made an egregious mistake and did not follow the language under Rule 32, which governs child support calculations. Rule 32 child support guidelines require the trial court to impute the amount of income it determines he is capable of earning and to calculate the child support pursuant to these guidelines. Accordingly, the Court ordered the case to be reversed and remanded for the trial court to make a finding of fact as to the amount of income to impute to the father and if so, what level of income to impute to the Father.
This Court highlights how courts have a duty to impute the amount of income it determines the party being capable of earning, if it is deemed that the party is voluntarily underemployed.
If you have been divorced for at least 5 years, it is important to see if you are entitled to an increase in child support. If you are seeking a modification of child support, please contact Joseph A. Ingram at (205) 656-0044. for a case evaluation.