An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Proced ure.

NO. COA04-370

NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS

Filed: 17 May 2005

FRANCES HOGAN HARRIS,
    Plaintiff,

v .                         Nash County
                            No. 00 CVD 369
ROGER EUGENE HARRIS,
    Defendant.

    Appeal by plaintiff from judgment and order entered 4 December 2003 by Judge John Milton Britt in Nash County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 2 December 2004.

    W. Michael Spivey for plaintiff-appellant.

    FARRIS AND FARRIS, P.A., by Thomas J. Farris, and THOMAS AND FARRIS, P.A., by Albert S. Thomas, Jr., for defendant- appellee.

    TIMMONS-GOODSON, Judge.

    Frances Hogan Harris (“plaintiff”) appeals the trial court judgment and order awarding her $1,100.00 per month in permanent alimony, distributing marital property, and denying her motion for attorney's fees. We conclude that the trial court did not err in its alimony judgment or in its order denying plaintiff attorney's fees. However, because we also conclude that the trial court erred in that portion of the judgment and order distributing the parties' property, we affirm the judgment and order in part and we remand for further findings of fact and recalculation of the distributive award.
    The facts and procedural history pertinent to the instantappeal are as follows: Plaintiff and Roger Eugene Harris (“defendant”) were married on 14 July 1982 and separated on 30 January 2000. On 25 February 2000, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant, seeking, inter alia, alimony and equitable distribution of marital and divisible property. On 7 March 2000, defendant filed an answer and counterclaim for child custody and equitable distribution. On 21 September 2001, the trial court entered a judgment and order awarding an equal share of the marital property to each party and awarding plaintiff $1,100.00 per month in permanent alimony. On 31 October 2001, the trial court entered an order denying plaintiff attorney's fees.
    Plaintiff thereafter appealed the 21 September 2001 judgment and order as well as the 31 October 2001 order. In an unpublished opinion, this Court determined that the trial court failed to make the sufficient and specific findings necessary to support its judgment and order, and we thus vacated the judgment and order and remanded the case to the trial court, with instructions to make those “further findings as required by law.” Harris v. Harris, 157 N.C. App. 364, 578 S.E.2d 710 (2003) (unpublished) (“Harris I”). The trial court did not take new evidence or hear further argument from the parties on remand. On 4 December 2003, the trial court entered a second judgment and order in the case, again awarding plaintiff $1,100.00 per month in permanent alimony, again awarding an equal share of the marital property to each party, and again denying plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees. It is from this judgment and order that plaintiff appeals.



    We note initially that plaintiff's brief does not contain arguments supporting each of the original assignments of error on appeal. Pursuant to N.C.R. App. P. 28(b)(6) (2005), the omitted assignments of error are deemed abandoned. Therefore, we limit our present review to those issues properly preserved by plaintiff for appeal.
    The issues on appeal are: (I) whether the trial court erred in determining the alimony award; (II) whether the trial court erred in distributing the parties' property; (III) whether the trial court erred by denying plaintiff's request for attorney's fees; and (IV) whether the trial court erred in entering its judgment and award.
I. Alimony Award
    Plaintiff first argues that the trial court erred in determining plaintiff's alimony award. In support of this argument, plaintiff asserts that the trial court: (a) found facts not supported by competent evidence and failed to make findings of fact supported by competent evidence; (b) altered facts found prior to Harris I; (c) considered improper factors in setting the amount of alimony; and (d) abused its discretion in determining the amount of alimony it awarded. For the reasons discussed herein, we affirm the trial court's alimony award.
(a) findings of fact
    N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A(a) (2003) provides in pertinent part as follows:        The court shall award alimony to the dependent spouse upon a finding that one spouse is a dependent spouse, that the other spouse is a supporting spouse, and that an award of alimony is equitable after considering all relevant factors, including those set out in subsection (b) of this section.

    N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A(b) requires the trial court to “exercise its discretion in determining the amount, duration, and manner of payment of alimony[,]” and it provides sixteen factors that the trial court should consider when making its alimony determination, including:

        (2) The relative earnings and earning capacities of the spouses;

        . . . .        

        (4) The amount and sources of earned and unearned income of both spouses, including, but not limited to, earnings, dividends, and benefits such as medical, retirement, insurance, social security, or others;

        . . . .

        (10) The relative assets and liabilities of the spouses and the relative debt service requirements of the spouses, including legal obligations of support;

        . . . .

        (13) The relative needs of the spouses;

        (14) The federal, State, and local tax ramifications of the alimony award; [and]

        (15) Any other factor relating to the economic circumstances of the parties that the court finds to be just and proper.

    N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A(c) requires the trial court to “set forth the reasons for its award or denial of alimony and, if making an award, the reasons for its amount, duration, and manner ofpayment.” Unless otherwise excepted by the Rules of Civil Procedure, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A(c) also requires that the trial court “make a specific finding of fact on each of the factors of subsection (b) . . . if evidence is offered on that factor.” “'The well-established rule is that findings of fact by the trial court supported by competent evidence are binding on the appellate courts even if the evidence would support a contrary finding.'” Kelly v. Kelly, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___, 606 S.E.2d 364, 368 (2004) (quoting Scott v. Scott, 336 N.C. 284, 291, 442 S.E.2d 493, 497 (1994)).
    In the instant case, with respect to defendant's income, the trial court made the following pertinent finding of fact:
        16. Defendant currently has a base cash yearly income of $124,823.98; in addition, he receives vehicle benefits totaling $2,583.00 per year; that is a reduction from $8,400.00 for vehicle benefits the previous year[.]

    Plaintiff asserts that the trial court erred in this finding of fact, in that the trial court ignored evidence of defendant's deferred compensation. The record reflects that, at trial, plaintiff provided copies of defendant's tax records and elicited testimony from a certified public accountant in an effort to demonstrate that defendant earned approximately $134,000.00 per year, $10,000.00 of which was deferred to avoid tax implications. However, the record also reflects that defendant testified that his 2001 bonus would not be deferred, that he earned $124,823.98 in 2000, and that he would be paid the same for 2001, although his bonus had not yet been calculated. He further testified asfollows:
        Q:    [N]ow, as far as your paycheck, now that you have stopped the deferred income and the car and everything else and you receive only cash compensation, what is your net income, what is your - what gets deposited into your account?

        . . . .
    
        A:    I don't have a statement in front of me, but I - I know this is correct. With the current exemptions that I was using, which is on federal married with five exemptions, my take home pay is $5,471.11.

        Q:    And so the $10,000.00 that used to get deferred - I mean, the $1,000.00 per month that was being taken out is now been added back in and that's the total amount; is that right?

        A:    That is correct.

    In light of the foregoing, we conclude that the trial court's finding of fact related to defendant's individual income is supported by competent evidence. Plaintiff's contention that the trial court was required to find facts in her favor because of the introduction of contrary evidence is without merit. See Kelly, ___ N.C. App. at ___, 606 S.E.2d at 368; Beall v. Beall, 290 N.C. 669, 673, 228 S.E.2d 407, 409 (1976) (“When the trial judge is authorized to find the facts, his findings, if supported by competent evidence, will not be disturbed on appeal despite the existence of evidence which would sustain contrary findings.”). Therefore, we conclude that the trial court did not err in its finding of fact related to defendant's income.
    With respect to plaintiff's income, the trial court made thefollowing pertinent findings of fact:
        11. Plaintiff has an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is presently working outside the home as a substitute teacher;

        . . . .

        13. Plaintiff was employed outside the home for approximately the first year of the marriage but thereafter was a homemaker with her primary responsibility being the care of the children;

        14. The parties agreed for her not to seek employment outside the home while the children were in elementary school; after the children moved beyond elementary school, Plaintiff alone determined, with the eventual acquiescence of Defendant, that she did not want to work outside the home and spend money on business attire;

        . . . .

        16. Plaintiff is presently employed as a substitute teacher at Faith Christian School, earning $5.15 an hour[.]

        . . . .

        18. Plaintiff is presently in good physical and mental condition and her ability to obtain and retain meaningful full-time employment is unimpeded; based on her education, appearance and obvious intellect, Plaintiff clearly has the means and ability to earn an amount well in excess of minimum wage.
    As detailed above, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A(b)(2) provides that a party's earning capacity is a proper factor for the trial court to consider when determining its alimony award. In the instant case, plaintiff asserts that in making the above-detailed findings of fact, the trial court failed to consider evidence offered at trial tending to show that her employment as a schoolteacher was only part-time and that she earned only $500.00 for four months of employment in 2000. However, we note that the trial court specifically found that plaintiff's “primary responsibility” is being the caretaker of her children, and in detailing its considerations regarding the amount, duration, and manner of alimony payment, the trial court recognized that “[p]laintiff's earning capacity has been impaired by her years out of the job market” and that her “earning power . . . will be affected to some extent by her being the primary custodian of the minor children[.]” In light of the foregoing, we are not convinced that the trial court failed to consider all the evidence before it when making its determination.
    Plaintiff maintains that the finding of fact that she has the “ability to earn an amount well in excess of minimum wage” is vague and based upon speculation. We recognize that in Harris I, this Court concluded that the trial court had failed to provide a sufficiently specific finding of fact regarding plaintiff's earning capacity when it found that plaintiff was “intellectually and physically capable of earning substantial sums.” In that case, we noted that we were unable to determine what the trial court meant by “substantial” as well as how the finding affected the court's alimony award in the absence of evidence of the parties' financial needs. However, the record in the instant case reflects that, on remand, the trial court detailed plaintiff's employment and earning history in its findings of fact, including her present part-time job. The trial court noted that plaintiff was capable of obtainingfull-time employment, and, as discussed below, the trial court made sufficient findings of fact regarding plaintiff's financial needs and expenses. In light of the foregoing, we conclude that the trial court complied with our instructions on remand, and therefore, we also conclude that the trial court did not err in its findings related to plaintiff's earning capacity.
    With respect to the amount and sources of unearned income of the parties, the trial court made the following pertinent findings of fact:
        22. In order to maintain the previously noted standard of living and prepare for retirement, Plaintiff's parents provided substantial funding for the parties through[out] the marriage; without that regular assistance, the parties could not have maintained their standard of living or saved as they did for retirement; to assist the parties and in conjunction with their own estate planning, in fact, Plaintiff's parents gifted more than $46,000.00 to them in 1998 and more than $52,000.00 in 1999; Plaintiff's parents also gifted amounts for the children's private schooling in years other than 1998 and 1999; Plaintiff's parents established a trust whereby Plaintiff's father was trustee but Plaintiff had the authority to remove the trustee at her will; the assets of the trust were fully gifted to Plaintiff and also provided interest income for the parties; Plaintiff's parents made regular, substantial gifts to Plaintiff, Defendant and their children throughout the marriage;

        . . . .

        33. The Court has considered the following factors in determining the amount, duration and manner of payment of alimony:

        . . . .

        c.    The parties' established standard of living and the need of the parties forregular contributions and gifts from Plaintiff's parents to sustain that standard of living as set forth in the findings of fact[.]

    Plaintiff asserts that these findings of fact are not supported by competent evidence. However, we note that plaintiff testified at trial that her parents had made contributions to the couple during their marriage, including payments for their children's private schooling, contributions to stock investments, and contributions to a trust fund. Although plaintiff testified that the gifts were “[m]ostly for” her children or their benefit, defendant testified that plaintiff's parents gave the family “[i]n excess of” $46,000.00 in 1998 and $52,000.00 in 1999. Defendant further testified that plaintiff's parents had given defendant and plaintiff money every year of their marriage, and that plaintiff's parents had been “very generous to [defendant and plaintiff] the entire time [they were] married.” In light of the foregoing, we conclude that competent evidence supports the trial court's findings of fact related to the gifts provided to the marriage by plaintiff's parents.
    With respect to defendant's reasonable monthly expenses, the trial court made the following pertinent findings of fact:
        24. Defendant submitted an affidavit of his monthly living expenses at the September 6, 2000 Hearing regarding spousal and child support and other issues, with that affidavit referenced by Defendant as still being accurate, Defendant stated his current expenses, not including child or spousal support, are approximately $3,600.00 per month. The affidavit from the earlier Hearing listed monthly living expenses of $3,546.69 . . . .
        25. Defendant's monthly living expenses . . . are approximately $2,750.00; such expenses are reasonable and necessary under the circumstances . . . .
    Plaintiff asserts that the trial court's findings of fact related to defendant's expenses are not supported by competent evidence. However, we note that defendant testified that his expenses were “[i]n the vicinity of $3,600.00 per month[,]” and that his living expenses were the same as those he listed during the post-separation support hearing. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 201(b) (2003) allows the trial court to take judicial notice of adjudicatory facts as long as those facts are “not subject to reasonable dispute in that [they are] . . . capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Plaintiff contends that the trial court erred by taking judicial notice of defendant's prior expense notes, in that the notes were never admitted into evidence during the post-separation support hearing, and plaintiff was not given an opportunity to rebut defendant's assertions therein. However, we note that a trial court may take judicial notice of adjudicative facts whether requested or not, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 201(c), and in the absence of prior notification by the trial court of its intent, a party is entitled to request a post-decision hearing regarding the propriety of the judicial notice. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 201(e). In the instant case, the record reflects that plaintiff did not object to defendant's reference to his earlier expense testimony, and there is no indication in the record that plaintiff requested a hearing regarding the proprietyof the judicial notice following the trial court's alimony order. Furthermore, the trial court's findings of fact demonstrate that it carefully considered the evidence before it in an effort to ascertain the amount of defendant's expenses that was “reasonable.” The trial court did not accept defendant's expense assertions at face value, finding instead that only $2,750.00 of the claimed $3,546.69 in expenses was reasonable. In light of the foregoing, we conclude that the trial court did not err with respect to its findings of fact related to defendant's expenses.
    With respect to plaintiff's reasonable monthly expenses, the trial court made the following pertinent findings of fact:
        26. Plaintiff submitted an affidavit listing her current monthly living expenses . . . .

        27. Plaintiff claims an expense of $1,603.00 for housing by estimating a monthly mortgage payment based on a ten-year loan; however, a ten year mortgage would substantially inflate a monthly expense as compared with a more normal fifteen or thirty year mortgage; in actuality, Plaintiff has no mortgage payment, is making no rent payment and either payment would be purely speculative;

        28. Plaintiff has also substantially increased her auto maintenance and repair expenses with that expense being $15.00 average per month as part of the household expenses of the parties, but $177.00 per month as an expense on her own; she also included a $491.00 automobile expense when in actuality there is none, and her medical expense statement for herself alone is $421.00 which is approximately $100.00 per month more than the listed family's expense; in addition, her retirement savings of $716.66 is speculative in that Plaintiff is able-bodied, capable of obtaining employment with its own retirement plan, and is receiving ownership of 50 percent of the three marital retirement plans; Defendant, in fact, stopped his savings planat work in July, 2000 by declaring hardship.

        29. The Court notes that Plaintiff has failed to include expenses for utilities or cable television and will, therefore, substitute $275.00, the amount claimed by Defendant for utilities, telephone and cable expense, in lieu of the $23.38 listed by Plaintiff as her telephone expense; she also did not list any clothing expense while Defendant listed $125.00 per month which shall also be included as the amount of clothing expense for Plaintiff; Plaintiff also failed to list insurance payments other than for the automobile while Defendant listed $100.00 which amount shall also be included as an insurance expense for Plaintiff; the auto insurance of $151.00 per month listed by Plaintiff includes insurance for a child's vehicle with the reasonable expense only for Plaintiff therefore being approximately one- half, or $76.00; the amounts of $491.00 for her automobile, $1,603.00 for housing, $256.63 for a credit card, and $716.66 for retirement savings are not sufficiently proven expenses; the Court accepts her auto maintenance and repair of $177.00 per month and her medical expense of $421.00 per month; Plaintiff's monthly living expenses are approximately $2,150.00; such expenses are reasonable and necessary under the circumstances.
    Plaintiff asserts that the trial court erred in making its findings of fact related to her expenses in that the trial court ignored evidence introduced at trial and made findings of fact unsupported by competent evidence. According to plaintiff, the “most egregious” of the trial court's errors is the finding of fact that plaintiff's housing expenses were “not sufficiently proven” and “purely speculative.” We conclude that the trial court did not err.
    The record reflects that plaintiff moved into a smaller residence following the parties' separation. The smaller residencewas purchased on plaintiff's behalf by her parents, who were also making mortgage payments on the residence. Plaintiff introduced an affidavit at trial indicating that her mortgage payment on the residence would be $1,603.00 per month were she to pay the mortgage. Plaintiff testified on cross-examination that this amount was a “projected amount for a ten-year loan, a ten-year mortgage to pay for the house . . . if I am capable of doing so.” However, notwithstanding her at-trial assertion that she had “hopes that [she] w[ould] be able to . . . buy it back” from her parents, there is no indication that plaintiff would be required to pay the mortgage on the residence. In light of the foregoing, we conclude that there is competent evidence to support the trial court's findings of fact regarding the smaller residence.
    Plaintiff maintains that the trial court erred in making several of the other findings of fact related to her expenses, in that the trial court ignored competent evidence introduced by plaintiff and failed to take into account the expenses plaintiff was accustomed to during the marriage. We note that under former N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.5, the trial court's goal in awarding alimony was to provide the dependent spouse with that amount of alimony necessary to maintain the standard of living the spouse was accustomed to during marriage. We also note that, under the current alimony statutes, “[t]he standard of living of the spouses established during the marriage” is a factor for the trial court to consider when awarding alimony. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A(b)(8). However, our Supreme Court has recognized that “a determinationthat one is the supporting spouse because he or she can maintain the dependent spouse at the standard of living to which they were accustomed through estate depletion could soon lead to inability to provide for either party.” Williams v. Williams, 299 N.C. 174, 184, 261 S.E.2d 849, 856 (1980). Thus “[w]hile the court must consider the needs of the spouse seeking alimony in the context of the family unit's accustomed standard of living, it also must determine that the supporting spouse has the financial capacity to provide the support needed therefor.” Whedon v. Whedon, 58 N.C. App. 524, 527, 294 S.E.2d 29, 31, disc. review denied, 306 N.C. 752, 295 S.E.2d 764 (1982). “The determination of what constitutes the reasonable needs and expenses of a party in an alimony action is within the discretion of the trial judge, and he is not required to accept at face value the assertion of living expenses offered by the litigants themselves.” Id. at 529, 294 S.E.2d at 32.
    In the instant case, the trial court expressly found that “[t]he parties, on their present income, cannot maintain the standard of living established during their marriage[.]” The trial court's findings of fact demonstrate that it considered the evidence introduced at trial, and, in its discretion, determined the reasonableness of the parties' proffered expenses. The trial court provided an explanation for its decrease or rejection of certain listed expenses, and it included expenses in its calculation that plaintiff failed to account for in her affidavit. After excluding those expenses it found unreasonable or speculative, including the housing allotment described above, thetrial court found that plaintiff's reasonable monthly expenses totaled $2,150.00 per month. This amount is approximately $100.00 more than that amount remaining when the housing expenses are excluded from the expense total provided by plaintiff in her expense summary. In light of the foregoing, we conclude that the trial court did not err with respect to its findings related to plaintiff's reasonable monthly expenses.
    With respect to the ramifications of federal, state, and local tax on the alimony award, the trial court made the following pertinent findings of fact:
        33. The Court has considered the following factors in determining the amount, duration and manner of payment of alimony:

        . . . .

        l.    The tax ramifications of an award of $1,100.00 per month alimony; although no evidence was presented as to an award of that amount, the tax liability should not exceed 28% federal and 7% state; evidence was introduced by Plaintiff that she would be in the 15% tax bracket upon an award of $2,000.00 per month alimony, but that was without consideration of her separate assets or any earned or unearned income[.]

    We note that in Harris I, this Court rejected the trial court's finding that “the federal, state, and local tax ramifications of this alimony award are factors in the Court's award of alimony[,]” concluding that the finding was insufficient to permit appellate review of how tax implications affected the alimony award. In the instant appeal, plaintiff asserts that trial court erred by making the above-detailed finding of fact on remand,in that the finding of fact remains insufficient to permit appellate review of how tax implications affected the alimony award. However, after reviewing the finding of fact and the evidence contained in the record, we cannot agree.
    The record in the instant case reflects that although plaintiff offered testimony at trial regarding the tax ramifications on an alimony award, this testimony was limited to alimony awards of $2,000.00 per month or greater. Plaintiff's tax witness did not provide testimony regarding the tax implications of an award of alimony in the amount of $1,100.00 per month, nor did the witness indicate he had considered plaintiff's ability to earn income or her other assets when he testified regarding the tax implications of an alimony award. The trial court recognized this in its finding of fact, and it noted that although plaintiff's expert witness had provided calculations based upon plaintiff being in the 15% bracket, plaintiff's tax liability “should not exceed 28% federal and 7% state” when the alimony award and other earnings are considered. We conclude that this finding of fact is sufficient to allow this Court to review the alimony award pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A(c), and therefore, we conclude that the trial court did not err with respect to the finding of fact related to the tax ramifications of the alimony award.
    In light of the foregoing conclusions, we hold that the trial court's findings of fact are supported by competent evidence and the trial court made those findings of fact required by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A.

(b) alteration of findings of fact on remand
    Plaintiff also asserts that, on remand, the trial court was prohibited from altering its previous findings of fact related to the alimony award. We disagree.
    As discussed above, in Harris I, this Court was unable to determine whether the trial court's findings of fact were supported by competent evidence because the findings of fact were not specifically detailed as required by law. Therefore, notwithstanding the findings of fact related to marital misconduct, we vacated the trial court's first alimony judgment and order and we remanded the case to the trial court to make those findings of fact required by law. On remand, the trial court reconsidered the evidence before it and entered findings of fact differing from those it found in its prior order. We conclude that this was not error.
    As we noted in Friend-Novorska v. Novorska, 143 N.C. App. 387, 393, 545 S.E.2d 788, 793, aff'd per curiam, 354 N.C. 564, 556 S.E.2d 294 (2001), “[t]he term 'vacate' means: 'To annul; to set aside; to cancel or rescind. To render an act void; as to vacate . . . a judgment.'” (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 1548 (6th ed. 1990)). Thus, where the appellate court vacates a trial court judgment and order, that judgment and order is void and has no effect on remand. The trial court is “free to consider the evidence before it and to enter new and/or additional findings of fact based on the evidence, with the exception that the trial court [i]s bound on remand by any portions of the . . . [judgment or]order affirmed by” the appellate court. Friend-Novorska, 143 N.C. App. at 393-94, 545 S.E.2d at 793.
    In the first appeal of this case, the trial court's prior judgment and order was vacated, save those findings related to marital misconduct, which we determined were “sufficient.” Our mandate on remand did not direct or require that the trial court enter any particular judgment or take any particular action other than to find those facts required by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.3A. Therefore, in light of Friend-Novorska, the trial court was free to modify or find anew any findings of fact supported by competent evidence and necessary to support its conclusions of law.
    We note that this conclusion is not inconsistent with Lea Co. v. N.C. Board of Transportation, 323 N.C. 697, 374 S.E.2d 866 (1989), the case cited by plaintiff in support of her argument. In Lea Co., our Supreme Court addressed the trial court's ability to modify or alter its judgment on remand, noting as follows:
        A decision of this Court on a prior appeal constitutes the law of the case, both in subsequent proceedings in the trial court and on a subsequent appeal. “[O]ur mandate is binding upon [the trial court] and must be strictly followed without variation or departure. No judgment other than that directed or permitted by the appellate court may be entered.” “We have held judgments of Superior [C]ourt which were inconsistent and at variance with, contrary to, and modified, corrected, altered or reversed prior mandates of the Supreme Court . . . to be unauthorized and void.”

Id. at 699, 374 S.E.2d at 868 (alterations in original) (citations omitted). In the instant case, as discussed above, the trial court had no specific mandate to which it could enter a judgment andorder “inconsistent and at variance with[] [or] contrary to[.]” Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not err by altering its findings of fact on remand.
(c) factors in setting the amount of alimony
    Plaintiff also asserts that the trial court considered improper factors in setting the amount of alimony in its award. In support of this assertion, plaintiff cites finding of fact number thirty-three, in which the trial court found as follows:
        33. The Court has considered the following factors in determining the amount, duration and manner of payment of alimony:

        . . . .

        e.    Defendant's lack of any source of unearned income and Plaintiff's trust of approximately $90,000.00 that does provide unearned income; Plaintiff has failed to provide adequate information regarding the exact size of the trust and Plaintiff's father failed to appear at a deposition scheduled and paid for by Defendant which was intended to ascertain the size of the trust and determine whether in fact there are other trusts established for and owned by Plaintiff[.]

Plaintiff asserts that this finding of fact is unsupported by competent evidence and demonstrates that trial court reduced her alimony in an effort to “punish” her for her father's failure to appear at a deposition. We disagree.
    The record in the instant case reflects that defendant introduced evidence during the alimony trial tending to show that plaintiff benefitted from a trust titled in her name and naming her father as trustee. On cross-examination, plaintiff testified that she did not remember listing the trust at a value of $94,000.00 indiscovery answers, and she did not know the value of the trust and did not consider it hers. Following the trial, defendant attempted to depose plaintiff's father regarding the nature and amount of the trust. Defendant was unsuccessful in his efforts, and, on 31 August 2001, the trial court issued a show cause order against plaintiff's father. On 10 September 2001, plaintiff's father filed a response to the show cause order. In his response, plaintiff's father tendered the full amount of defendant's attorney's fees related to the deposition and offered to provide defendant with “a fully executed copy of the Frances Hogan Harris Revocable Trust” as well as a detailed statement of all assets contained in the trust. On 14 November 2001, a consent order was issued requiring plaintiff's father to pay the reasonable expenses of the planned deposition and to comply with any further discovery requests. In light of the foregoing, we conclude that subsection “e” of finding of fact thirty-three is supported by competent evidence.
    We further conclude that the record does not demonstrate that the trial court “punished” plaintiff for her father's failure to appear at the scheduled deposition. The trial court's statements related to plaintiff's inability to provide the exact amount contained within the trust are an attempt to clarify its finding and to demonstrate why the $90,000.00 figure is approximate. We are not persuaded by plaintiff's contention that the trial court improperly considered plaintiff's father's actions or inactions when determining its alimony award. Therefore, we hold that the trial court did not err in making its findings of fact related tothe revocable trust.
(d) amount of alimony awarded
    Plaintiff also asserts that the trial court abused its discretion in determining the amount of alimony it awarded. Plaintiff asserts that there was no reasoned basis for the trial court's alimony award. We disagree.
    Decisions regarding the amount of alimony awarded to the dependent spouse are left to the sound discretion of the trial court. Bookholt v. Bookholt, 136 N.C. App. 247, 249-50, 523 S.E.2d 729, 731 (1999). On appeal, this Court will not disturb an alimony award absent a showing that the trial court abused its discretion. Id. “Our Supreme Court has cautioned this Court to apply our review 'strictly' and has explained [that] 'a manifest abuse of discretion must be made to appear from the record as a whole with the party alleging the existence of an abuse bearing the heavy burden of proof.'” Kelly, ___ N.C. App. at ___, 606 S.E.2d at 368 (quoting Worthington v. Bynum and Cogdell v. Bynum, 305 N.C. 478, 484-85, 290 S.E.2d 599, 604 (1982)).
    In the instant case, we have already held that the trial court did not err in its findings related to the parties' incomes and reasonable expenses. Based upon the record before us, we conclude that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding her $1,100.00 per month in alimony. Therefore, we hold that the trial court did not err in determining the amount of alimony it awarded.
    In light of the foregoing conclusions, we affirm the trialcourt's alimony award. Accordingly, plaintiff's first argument is overruled.
II. Equitable Distribution
    Plaintiff next argues that the trial court erred in the portion of the judgment and order distributing the parties' property. Plaintiff asserts that portions of the trial court's findings of fact related to marital debt are unsupported by competent evidence and violate the mandate of this Court on remand. We agree.
    The record reflects that following the parties' separation, defendant sold 1000 shares of marital stock for a total of $71,715.45. Defendant placed these funds along with the balance of an insurance reimbursement for a damaged motorcycle into an asset account, and he thereafter used the account to pay certain marital debts as well as joint and separate bills. In Harris I, we rejected the trial court's finding of fact that the funds from the sale of stock were “used to pay marital debt and was therefore equitably distributed[,]” noting that the trial court failed to sufficiently detail the various expenditures and determine whether they were related to marital debt or separate post-separation obligations. On remand, the trial court made the following pertinent findings of fact:
        44. The parties owned the following items of property on the date of their separation, each item has the date of separation and current value stated, and each item is to be distributed as stated:

        . . . .
        k.    The McCloud stock was marital, had a value of $71,715.45 on the date of separation and was sold shortly thereafter; the funds from the sale were placed into the “asset account” and were expended in full on marital debts and obligations or as payments to equalize distribution as follows:

            1.    Defendant paid his accounts receivable at [his employer] in the amount of $2,253.12 which was a marital debt;
            
            2.    Defendant paid $1,740.00 to a dentist, . . . for braces for one of his children, which was a marital debt;

            3.    Defendant paid an outstanding balance of $1,870.00 due upon a credit card, incurred prior to the date of separation, which was a marital debt;

            4.    Defendant paid $2,626.04 on an outstanding balance on a First Citizen Bank Card, incurred prior to the date of separation, which was a marital debt.

            . . . .

            13.    Defendant made other miscellaneous payments which were either for marital debt or for the equal benefit of both parties.
    In Becker v. Becker, 127 N.C. App. 409, 414-15, 489 S.E.2d 909, 913 (1997), this Court summarized marital debt as follows:
        “A marital debt . . . is one incurred during the marriage and before the date of separation by either spouse or both spouses for the joint benefit of the parties.” “'The party who claims that any debt is marital bears the burden of proof on that issue.'” The party so claiming must prove “the value of the debt on the date of separation and that it was 'incurred during the marriage for the joint benefit of the husband and wife.'”
(citations omitted). In Becker, the defendant argued that the debt associated with one of his medical bills should have been considered marital debt during distribution. We noted that the defendant had presented no evidence tending to show that the debt was incurred for “the parties' joint benefit,” in that the evidence introduced at the equitable distribution trial only demonstrated that “work [was] performed on defendant and . . . the bill was in defendant's name . . . .” Id. at 415, 489 S.E.2d at 913. We thus held that the defendant had not met his burden of showing that the medical bill was a marital debt, concluding that “the evidence that the debt was for work performed on defendant and that the bill was in defendant's name was sufficient to show the debt was incurred for defendant's benefit only rather than for the joint benefit of the parties.” Id. at 415, 489 S.E.2d at 913-14. Similarly, in Riggs v. Riggs, 124 N.C. App. 647, 652, 478 S.E.2d 211, 214 (1996), disc. review denied, 345 N.C. 755, 485 S.E.2d 297 (1997), we concluded that there was no competent evidence to support the trial court's determination that pre-separation credit card debt was for the benefit of both parties, where the only evidence in the record related to the debt was the defendant's statement on cross- examination that she had no documentation to show what purchases were charged to the credit card account.
    In the instant case, defendant testified that he had received “a cash advance for traveling overseas” while employed, and that the $2,253.12 payment to his employer was to cover the “balance  . . . owed the company” from his work-related travel. However,defendant also testified that “for years [he had] used cash advance[s] from the company to intertwine with [the parties'] own private finances.” During recross-examination, defendant testified that he received cash advances when he went on work-related trips, and that when he returned from such trips, he “still had the cash and . . . co-mingled that cash in with expenses with the home.” The following exchange thereafter occurred:
        Q:    Let's come back to my question. Tell me dollar for dollar what that money was spent on?

        A:    For - for marital debt, . . ., I can't tell you.

        Q:    What marital debt, specifically?

        A:    I don't know if I took the kids to the movies or if I bought ribeyes with it, if I filled the car up, if I bought groceries with it, I have no idea what I did with that money.

        Q:    You don't know if you spent it on the golf course on yourself?

        A:    No, sir, I do not.

        Q:    Okay, you don't know where that money went in terms of whether it was spent for your personal benefit or for her benefit or for the children's benefit, do you?

        A:    Well, I assume that while we were together all of our debts were marital debts whether I spent it or she got her hair colored or whatever, it would be marital expense.

With respect to the $2,626.04 payment to First Citizens Bank, defendant offered testimony tending to show that he had made two payments to First Citizens Bank related to the credit card balance: one payment of $2,626.04 for “marital debt” the parties had, andone payment of $1,307.20 for those charges incurred by defendant following the date of separation. However, defendant failed to offer any evidence tending to show what particular marital debt was included in the $2,626.04 payment amount. We conclude that, in light of Becker and Riggs, defendant failed to meet his burden regarding the alleged marital debt. Defendant was unable to provide any documentation regarding the nature of charges underlying the debts and whether the debts were incurred for the joint benefit of the parties. Therefore, we hold that the trial court erred by finding that the $2,253.12 and $2,626.04 payments made by defendant were for marital debt. Accordingly, we remand the case to the trial court with instructions to properly classify this debt as separate debt and to enter a new equitable distribution order reflecting this classification.
    We also conclude that the trial court erred by twice counting as marital debt defendant's payment of his child's $1,740.00 orthodontic bill. The transcript reflects the following trial testimony from defendant regarding the bill:
        Q:    All right, and the next bill you paid on the next page?

        A:    On the next page is a - is a payoff of $1,740.00 to . . . a dentist for Roger's braces, the payoff on that.

        Q:    Was how much?

        A:    $1,740 - $1,740.00.

        Q:    Okay, and then the next page?

        THE COURT:    That's the copy of the check.

        THE WITNESS:    The next page is just showingthe - where they had already taken - I was paying the bill off of my credit card on a monthly basis. It was being drafted. And this is just a copy showing that, that had been paid. So, I assume you had to - the balance, the original balance I got, I believe, was $1,740.00 plus $130.00. That's why I voided this check. Because the payment had been made.

        Q:    In any event you paid them a total of -

        A:    I paid it off - I paid them off in full. I paid them off in full.

As detailed above, rather than crediting defendant once for the $1,740.00 payment of the dental bill, the trial court found in two separate findings that defendant had “paid $1,740.00 ” to a dentist and had also “paid an outstanding balance of $1,870.00 due upon a credit card[.]” This finding is not supported by competent evidence, in that the above-detailed evidence tends to show that the $1,740.00 dental bill was paid off via the credit card, and therefore included in the outstanding balance of $1,870.00. Thus, we hold that the trial court erred by crediting defendant twice for the payment of a single marital debt. Accordingly, on remand, the trial court is instructed to remove from its equitable distribution order the finding of fact regarding defendant's payment of the “outstanding balance” of the pertinent credit card.
    Finally, we note that in Harris I, we remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to “make specific findings with respect to defendant's use of the marital funds in question, detailing whether the various expenditures were for marital debt orseparate post-separation support obligations or debts.” However, as detailed above, the trial court entered only twelve findings of fact related to these expenditures on remand. After accounting for approximately $55,000.00 of the asset account spending, the trial court concluded its findings of fact regarding the expenditures by stating that “[d]efendant made other miscellaneous payments which were either for marital debt or for the equal benefit of both parties.” We conclude that this finding of fact is not sufficiently specific to satisfy our prior remand requirement, and, accordingly, we reinstruct the trial court to make specific findings with respect to defendant's use of the marital funds in question on remand, detailing whether the various expenditures referred to in the finding were for marital debt or separate post- separation support obligations or debts.
III. Attorney's Fees
    Plaintiff next argues that the trial court erred by refusing to award her attorney's fees. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.4 (2003) provides as follows:
        At any time that a dependent spouse would be entitled to alimony pursuant to G.S. 50-16.3A, or postseparation support pursuant to G.S. 50- 16.2A, the court may, upon application of such spouse, enter an order for reasonable counsel fees for the benefit of such spouse, to be paid and secured by the supporting spouse in the same manner as alimony.

“[T]he purpose of the allowance of counsel fees is to enable the dependent spouse, as litigant, to meet the supporting spouse, as litigant, on substantially even terms by making it possible for the dependent spouse to employ adequate counsel.” Williams, 299 N.C.at 190, 261 S.E.2d at 860. “In making this determination, the trial court should focus on both the disposable income of the dependent spouse and on her separate estate.” Bookholt, 136 N.C. App. at 252, 523 S.E.2d at 732 (citing Van Every v. McGuire, 348 N.C. 58, 62, 497 S.E.2d 689, 691 (1998) (holding that trial court may, if it so chooses, engage in a comparison of both parties' estates in order to determine “whether any necessary depletion of [the dependent spouse's] estate by paying her own reasonable expenses would be reasonable or unreasonable.”)).
    In the instant case, the trial court made the following pertinent findings of fact in relation to plaintiff's entitlement to attorney's fees:
        38. Plaintiff's estate, plus the $2,000.00 per month post-separation support payments made by Defendant to Plaintiff, have allowed Plaintiff to maintain herself according to her station in life and to employ counsel to meet Defendant at trial upon substantially equal terms; Plaintiff is receiving an equal distribution of marital assets which includes participation in multiple retirement plans; Plaintiff has a substantial separate estate and will receive $1,100.00 per month in alimony; Plaintiff has a college degree and is fully capable of meaningful employment; Defendant has no separate estate, is now ordered to pay permanent alimony to Plaintiff and has an ongoing child support obligation; Plaintiff also caused Defendant to incur additional attorney fees by failing to comply with her duty to fully disclose her separate estate by providing appropriate documentation; her failure to comply with that duty also resulted in Defendant having to schedule a deposition of Plaintiff's father in an attempt to obtain the information only to have Plaintiff's father fail to appear; Plaintiff has had sufficient means to subsist during the entire prosecution of this suit, including appeal, and to defray the attendant expensesthereof;

        39. Defendant does not have an estate sufficient to subsist during the entire prosecution of this suit if he were required to also pay Plaintiff's attorney fees;

        40. Even if Plaintiff had fully disclosed or provided proper documentation of her separate estate, Defendant would not have had the ability to pay Plaintiff's attorney fees; Plaintiff has the ability to sufficiently prosecute her action[.]

    Plaintiff asserts that the record does not contain competent evidence to support the trial court's findings of fact related to her ability to defray costs of the litigation. However, as discussed above, the record contains ample evidence to support the trial court's findings of fact regarding plaintiff's reasonable expenses, income, and separate estate. Plaintiff's parents were paying the mortgage on her residence at the time of the alimony and equitable distribution trial, and she received post-separation support payments until the trial and alimony and child support payments thereafter. We conclude that the trial court did not err in considering defendant's and plaintiff's separate estates in its determination, and we also conclude that competent evidence supports the trial court's findings of fact, including the determination that plaintiff has the ability to sufficiently prosecute her action. Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that her estate will be unreasonably depleted were she required to pay her own attorney's fees, and she has also failed to demonstrate that the trial court considered any improper factors in determining whether to award her attorney's fees. Thus, we hold that the trialcourt did not err in refusing to award plaintiff attorney's fees, and therefore, we affirm the trial court's order. Accordingly, plaintiff's third argument is overruled.
IV. Entry of Judgment
    Plaintiff's final argument is that the trial court erred by delaying the entry of its judgment. Plaintiff asserts that, as a result of the delay, she has been denied due process of law and should be granted a new trial. However, after reviewing the record, we conclude that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that any such delay resulted in undue prejudice to her. Accordingly, we overrule plaintiff's final argument.
V. Conclusion
    In light of the foregoing, we affirm the trial court's judgment and order with respect to the alimony award and denial of plaintiff's attorney's fees. However, we remand that portion of the judgment and order distributing the parties' property, with instructions to the trial court to remove those findings of fact we have determined to be in error, to make a specific and detailed finding of fact regarding those expenditures referred to in finding of fact 44(k)(13), and to recalculate the distributive award accordingly.
    Affirmed in part; Remanded in part.
    Judges TYSON and GEER concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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