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Domestic Relations – Alimony – Imputed Income – Job Loss

Where the evidence supports the trial court’s finding that the defendant-husband could earn $100,000 per year, and considering the rent he receives for his real property, we reject the husband’s argument that the trial court’s alimony award is an abuse of discretion because it will force him to deplete his estate at his current income while the plaintiff-wife will not.

We modify the trial court’s order to correct a minor error; otherwise we affirm the trial court’s order reducing the husband’s monthly alimony obligation from $2,200 to $1,800.

Facts

The husband first worked in mechanical engineering and then moved to marketing in the iron industry. When the parties divorced, he agreed to pay monthly alimony of $2,200.

In 2016, the husband lost his $160,000-a-year marketing job, and he stopped paying alimony. After an unsuccessful job search within the iron industry, he took a job at a gun shop as a part-time salesman earning $2,000 a month.

The plaintiff-wife, who had resorted to depleting her estate to pay her expenses, filed a contempt motion. The trial court imputed income of $100,000 per year to the husband and reduced his monthly alimony obligation to $1,800. The husband appeals.

Discussion

Even though the husband’s engineering license had lapsed, his testimony reveals that he still considered himself to be an engineer and that his marketing position necessitated use of that skill set. The husband’s own testimony supports the trial court’s finding that the husband could still earn a salary as an engineer, as he testified he was still working in an engineering capacity when he was terminated from his position as a director of marketing.

Finding of Fact 8 states that the husband was earning $160,000 per year at the time of his termination, a finding the husband does not challenge. Further, the evidence discloses that the husband had earned a base salary, not including bonuses, of well over $100,000 from 2011 through his termination. As a result, we cannot say that the trial court’s finding that the husband had the capability to earn an annual salary of $100,000 is unsupported by the evidence.

The husband contends that the trial court abused its discretion in setting the amount of alimony awarded, as he will be forced to deplete his estate at his current income while the wife will not. However, the trial court made adequate findings and conclusions to impute a monthly income of $6,500 to the husband for his bad faith suppression of earnings; any abuse of discretion concerning the husband’s ability to pay, then, is determined based on this earning capacity rather than his actual income at the time of the award.

The trial court further found that this imputed income, combined with the husband’s rental income from his country club property, left him with a total monthly income of $8,300 – an excess of $2,000 over his reasonable monthly expenses. The addition of the trial court’s modified alimony award of $1,800 per month to those expenses, then, leaves the husband with an extra $200 to add to his estate. As a result, we believe the alimony award to be fair to both parties and hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in setting the amount based on the husband’s imputed income and reasonable expenses.

We do agree with the husband that there was no evidence to support a finding that he was previously employed as a civil engineer and that he has the means and ability to work in that field; all evidence in the record indicates that the husband was a mechanical engineer, rather than a civil one. We resolve this error by striking the word “civil” from the relevant findings of fact.

Affirmed as modified.

Gaines v. Gaines (Lawyers Weekly No. 012-163-18, 16 pp.) (Lucy Inman, J.) Appealed from Iredell County District Court (L. Dale Graham, J.) Alex Graziano for plaintiff; Leah Gaines Messick for defendant. N.C. App. Unpub.

 

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