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1. Child Support, Custody, and Visitation-- support--modification--children's reasonable needs--findings not sufficient
A child support modification was reversed and remanded where the court did not make the necessary findings about the children's reasonable needs. Although the court found that the needs of the children had not changed, the court made no finding, and the record contained no indication, of what those expenses had been. It is not enough that the court received testimony and documentation from which sufficient findings could have been made.
2. Child Support, Custody, and Visitation-- support--award in excess of
The trial court made insufficient findings to support an award in excess of the Child Support Guidelines where the Court of Appeals could only speculate on how the trial court reached its figure and whether it was supported by competent evidence.
Knox, Brotherton, Knox & Godfrey, by Peter E. McArdle, for
Karro, Sellers & Langson, by Julia S. Scheer, for defendant- appellee.
Plaintiff Robert Beamer appeals from the trial court's order modifying the amount of child support he was required to pay defendant Grace McKay Roakes. We remand for further findings of fact because the trial court's decision to deviate from the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines ("the Guidelines") is not supported by specific findings of fact as to (1) the reasonableneeds of the children and (2) the basis for the amount of child support ultimately awarded.
The court then modified plaintiff's monthly child support from
$1,575.00 to $1,110.00.
Plaintiff first contends that the trial court erred by failing to make any findings regarding the reasonable needs of thechildren. On this issue, the trial court made only the following findings of fact:
15. Plaintiff . . . maintains major medical and hospitalization coverage for the benefit of the children at a cost of $180 per month. . . .
. . . .
17. The needs of the minor children have not
significantly changed since the entry of
the August 20, 2001 Order, but the
Plaintiff's income has been substantially
reduced from the $9,693 per month figure
upon which Plaintiff's current level of
child support responsibility is based.
Plaintiff's current average monthly
income (based upon sales commissions as a
real estate broker) for 2003 is
approximately $5,416 per month.
18. The minor children may benefit from their attendance at an area private Catholic school as originally agreed upon between the parties, but the children do not have special education needs which require their attendance at a private school.
19. The reasonable needs of the minor children have not materially changed since August of 2001.
We agree with plaintiff that these findings of fact are not sufficient.
In finding "'the facts relating to the reasonable needs of the child for support and the relative ability of each parent to provide support,'" the trial court must consider "'the reasonable needs of the child for health, education, and maintenance, having due regard to the estates, earnings, conditions, accustomed standard of living of the child and the parties, the child care and homemaker contributions of each party, and other facts of theparticular case.'" Fisher, 131 N.C. App. at 645, 507 S.E.2d at 594 (quoting N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.4(c), (c1)). These "factors should be included in the findings if the trial court is requested to deviate from the [G]uidelines." Gowing v. Gowing, 111 N.C. App. 613, 618, 432 S.E.2d 911, 914 (1993).
In this case, the trial court's findings of fact only address health insurance costs and the lack of any need for private school. The order contains no specific findings of fact regarding the children's maintenance or additional health and educational expenses. Although the trial court found that the children's needs had not changed, the court made no finding _ and the record contains no indication _ of what those expenses had been previously. Without knowing what the children's reasonable expenses are, we cannot review the trial court's decision to deviate from the Guidelines or the amount ultimately awarded. Coble v. Coble, 300 N.C. 708, 712, 268 S.E.2d 185, 189 (1980) (holding that without sufficient factual findings regarding the amount of support necessary to meet the reasonable needs of the child, an appellate court has no means of determining whether the order is adequately supported by competent evidence).
Defendant argues, however, that the trial court heard testimony and received documentation detailing the reasonable needs of the children. Nevertheless, our Supreme Court has stressed that "[i]t is not enough that there may be evidence in the record sufficient to support findings which could have been made. The trial court must itself determine what pertinent facts are actuallyestablished by the evidence before it . . . ." Id. Because the trial court failed to include the necessary findings of fact regarding the children's reasonable needs, this Court must reverse and remand for further proceedings. Brooker, 133 N.C. App. at 291, 515 S.E.2d at 239 (remanding because the trial court's order deviating from the Guidelines did not include sufficient findings regarding the reasonable needs of the children). See also 2 Suzanne Reynolds, Lee's North Carolina Family Law § 10.15 (5th ed. 1999) ("If the trial court fails to make findings regarding the child's reasonable needs, it cannot determine whether the application of the guidelines would not meet the reasonable needs of the child, and deviation is improper.").
Plaintiff also contends that the trial court erred in failing to provide an explanation for its award of $1,110.00, an amount $500.00 in excess of the amount prescribed by the Guidelines. While this amount may have a logical basis, the court's order does not reflect how the court reached that figure. Although an amount of child support under the Guidelines is presumptively correct, "when the trial court deviates from the presumptive guidelines, it 'shall make findings of fact as to the criteria that justify . . . the basis for the amount ordered.'" State ex. rel. Horne v. Horne, 127 N.C. App. 387, 390, 489 S.E.2d 431, 433 (1997) (quoting N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.4(c) (1995)).
Defendant argues that the $1,110.00 figure comes from the new amount of support under the Guidelines ($597.00) plus the approximate amount that plaintiff had been paying to cover thechildren's private school expenses ($510.00). There is, however, nothing in the record to indicate that defendant's proposed calculation was in fact the basis for the award or, if so, why such a calculation was considered justified by the trial court. Because the current order leaves us to speculate how the trial court reached its figure and whether it was supported by competent evidence, the trial court on remand should ensure that it explains the basis for the amount ultimately awarded. Id. (remanding for failure to include "sufficient findings of fact to support the amount of child support awarded").
Judges CALABRIA and STEELMAN concur.
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