from the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish
of Bossier, Louisiana Trial Court No. 136272 Honorable
Michael Owens Craig, Judge
SOCKRIDER, BOLIN, ANGLIN, BATTE & HATHAWAY By: D. Rex
Anglin Counsel for Appellant.
J. MICIOTTO, MARK JOSEPH MICIOTTO Counsel for Appellee.
WILLIAMS, STONE, and STEPHENS, JJ.
Lynn Salter McGaitlin Milton ("Kara") appeals a
judgment by the 26th Judicial District Court, Parish of
Bossier, State of Louisiana that set the child support
obligation for Michael Paul Salter ("Michael").
Kara's three assignments of error all concern the trial
court's determination of Michael's gross income. For
the following reasons, we affirm.
and Michael have two daughters together and have been
involved in abundant litigation regarding child custody,
visitation, and support since their divorce in 2010. On March
7, 2014, Kara filed a petition for modification of child
support. Prior to trial, the trial court appointed as an
expert certified public accountant Susan Whitelaw
("Whitelaw") for the purpose of analyzing any and
all documents or other information she deemed appropriate and
necessary to give an opinion to the trial court as to the
income of both parties and any benefit, if any, that either
party receives from expense sharing as provided in La. R.S.
9:315(C)(5)(c) for the period January 1, 2014 to date of her
opinion. Whitelaw submitted her findings in writing and also
testified at the trial.
initial report, Whitelaw recommended that Michael's 2014
income was $169, 183.11 and his 2015 income was $209, 113.60
but declared she was unable to give a definitive opinion
regarding Michael's 2016 income; she did not believe that
Michael had provided her with complete information, and it
was her observation that Michael had used various strategies
to obfuscate his income. At Michael's request, Whitelaw
analyzed the information she had been provided and issued a
subsequent report indicating his 2016 income was at least
$92, 251.00. Whitelaw determined Kara's income for the
years 2014, 2015, and 2016 to be $2, 653.39, $2, 979.37 and
$2, 979.37, respectively. Kara was not employed during these
years, but income was assigned to her based on expense
commenced on December 16, 2016. Whitelaw testified in
accordance with her previously submitted reports and was the
only witness. Following trial, the trial court issued a
written opinion determining the gross income for the parties.
With regard to Michael's 2014 income, the trial court
subtracted $12, 500.00 from Whitelaw's findings and set
income at $156, 683.11. The subtracted amount reflected the
sum of attorney fees that was paid on Michael's behalf by
his employer, Century 21, which is owned by his father, and
later deducted from commissions earned by Michael. The trial
court explained the deduction was made because Whitelaw's
determination made no accounting for expense sharing on
Kara's behalf for her attorney fees. With regard to
Michael's 2015 income, the trial court subtracted $5,
580.00 paid in attorney fees on behalf of Michael for the
same reasons stated above. The trial court also subtracted an
additional $24, 412.95 from Whitelaw's 2015 recommended
income for Michael, finding that there was uncontradicted
evidence that this sum was loans or gifts and not income.
With regard to Michael's 2016 income, the trial court
acknowledged Whitelaw's belief that Michael had not
submitted complete income information for that year. However,
because no evidence was admitted verifying additional sums,
the trial court set Michael's income for 2016 at $92,
251.00, in accordance with Whitelaw's findings.
issuing the opinion, the trial court ordered the parties to
prepare worksheets consistent with his income determinations
for the purpose of calculating the child support obligations.
Judgment setting the obligation was rendered, and that
judgment is the subject of this appeal.
trial court is given great discretion in either granting or
modifying child support awards and its decision will not be
set aside or amended on appeal absent a clear abuse of that
discretion. Armstrong v. Rayford, 39, 653 (La.App. 2
Cir. 5/11/05), 902 So.2d 1214, 1219. Furthermore, the trial
court has wide discretion in determining the credibility of
witnesses; its conclusions of fact regarding financial
matters underlying an award of child support will not be
disturbed in the absence of manifest error. Curtis v.
Curtis, 34, 317 (La.App. 2 Cir. 11/1/00), 773 So.2d 185,
first assignment of error is that the trial court erred in
deducting from Michael's gross income the sum of attorney
fees paid on his behalf. Whitelaw's report was devoid of
any reference to attorney fees incurred by, paid by, or on
behalf of Kara. Whitelaw testified that she was provided no
information from Kara regarding those fees and that her
report only included reference to Michael's fees because
they were paid on his behalf by his employer and subsequently
deducted from his earned commission. Whitelaw included the
sum of Michael's attorney fees in her calculation of
Michael's income. The trial court chose not to and
explained in written reasons that its decision was due to
Kara's failure to provide attorney fees information. This
court recognizes that the trial court could have simply
categorized these sums as commission and included them in the
calculation of Michael's gross income. However, it is
within the trial court's discretion to decide what amount
is appropriate for inclusion in gross income, and the trial
court's credibility determinations regarding a
party's sources of income are entitled to great weight.
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