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Domestic Relations – Child Support – Limitation on Evidence – Consideration of Period After Remand

On remand from the court’s reversal of the trial court’s original child support order, the trial court exercised its discretion not to take additional evidence but erroneously made findings of fact as to the parties’ conduct on remand. We therefore reverse the new order and remand for the trial court to either take additional evidence for the remand period or limit its findings of fact solely to the existing record.

We reverse the trial court’s order establishing child support and remand for a new hearing based on father’s payments made prior to the hearing on remand.

The parties were unmarried parents of a minor child. Both were in medical school upon entry of a temporary child support orders; however, both parties’ incomes substantially increased after they completed their residencies. Mother filed a notice of hearing for permanent custody and child support. The trial court ordered plaintiff to pay prospective child support and child support arrears.

Father appealed and the court remanded, ruling that the trial court’s order expressly indicated that the trial court was operating under a misapprehension of the law. The court therefore did not address father’s arguments concerning the calculation of child support because the trial court’s analysis could change upon application of the legal standard for high-income cases. The court also left the decision to take additional evidence to the trial court’s discretion.

On remand, the trial court did not take any additional evidence. The trial court entered the present order, which mother now appeals. However, both parties note various errors in the trial court’s calculation of child support and father conceded that the order had to be remanded on some issues.

We hold that the trial court erred in making findings of fact concerning events occurring during remand without taking additional evidence to support those findings. We again leave the trial court discretion whether to take additional evidence but reaffirm that if the trial court takes no new evidence, any findings of fact must be based on the existing record. We cannot determine if the trial court’s current findings of fact are based on competent evidence because there is no evidence for the period on remand. We also note that the trial court may have erred in holding our prior reversal as tacitly approving father’s arguments against the factual findings of the original order, since our reversal was based solely on legal grounds.

We further note that, in a non-guidelines case such as this, the trial court must consider the needs of the child based on the child’s “accustomed standard of living” and must make findings of fact as to the child’s needs and the parties’ financial circumstances.

Finally, we concur with mother that the trial court made several mathematical errors in its order, including allocating all of mother’s vehicle costs and having mother bear full responsibility for travel expenses for visitation. We also direct the trial court to consider and make findings of father as to whether father failed to furnish support that was adequate under the circumstances at the time of the original temporary support order.

Reversed and remanded.

Crews v. Paysour (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-311-18, 18 pp.) (Stroud, J.) Appealed from Pitt County District Court (G. Galen Braddy, J.) Steve Mansbery for appellant; Jon B. Kurtz for appellee. N.C. Ct. App.


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