Child Support and Deviation From Guidelines
WINEBARGER v. STEEN, 2022-NCCOA-739.
Facts: Mother and Father split and had a case with child support. Mother requested to deviate from the child support guidelines. On 10 June 2021, the trial court imposed a $290.38 child support obligation on Father, consistent with the child support guidelines. No findings or conclusions of law were made concerning Mother’s income and expenses. No child support worksheet was attached, although one was referenced in the Order. Father’s income was found to be $52,781.05, even though the Order also found that Father was totaling $63,975.05 in income earlier in the Order. No explanation was given for the discrepancy. Among sources of income, $4,967 was included as part of a Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) Loan. Father appealed.
Issue: Was the trial court in error when it failed to find necessary facts for the child support order?
Reasoning: When a party requests deviation, the court must hear evidence and find facts related to the needs of the child and the parents’ ability to pay. This means that there must be findings regarding the parties’ income, estates, and present reasonable expenses when determining the parties’ abilities to pay. The trial court must also make required findings about the reasonable needs of the minor child for health, education, and maintenance. All of that is done with regard to the economic factors about the parents. Even when the trial court declines a party’s request to deviate, the trial court must still make those required findings. The Order before the court meets none of those requirements. Despite receiving extensive evidence concerning income, expenses, and childcare costs, the trial court did not make any findings for the Mother. The discrepancy in Father’s income was also unexplained.
The Order is lacking in required findings that the law imposes. Deviation requests have the potential to remove the calculation of a child support obligation from the guidelines. Even when the court declines to deviate, the trial court must make these findings in cases where a party has requested deviation from the guidelines. Since the child support order lacked many findings on the parties’ incomes and the needs of the child, it was reversed and remanded for further findings to fill in the gaps necessary.