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McGatlin v. Salter

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

February 28, 2018

MICHAEL PAUL SALTER, Defendant-Appellee

         Appealed 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.

          RONALD J. MICIOTTO, MARK JOSEPH MICIOTTO Counsel for Appellee.

          Before WILLIAMS, STONE, and STEPHENS, JJ.

          STEPHENS, J.

         Kara Lynn Salter McGaitlin Milton[1] ("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.


         Kara 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.

         In her 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 sharing.

         Trial 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.

         Upon 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.[2]


         The 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, 192.

         Kara's 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. Brossett v. ...

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