FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ACADIA,
NO. 2017-10204-M HONORABLE CHARLES G. FITZGERALD, DISTRICT
Derrick Miller (A Professional Law Corporation) COUNSEL FOR
PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT: Karl Jude Hensgens
Popich Harris Helen Popich Harris (APLC) COUNSEL FOR
DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: Alanna Wingate Hensgens
composed of John D. Saunders, Shannon J. Gremillion, and John
E. Conery, Judges.
E. CONERY JUDGE.
the parties' divorce, Defendant sought interim spousal
support as well as child support for the couple's three
minor children. Plaintiff cited a downturn in his farming
operation in reporting a period of negative income for
calculation of support. The trial court rejected that
evidence after finding that Plaintiff's accounting
methodology was inconsistent with La.R.S. 9:315(C)(3)(c). The
trial court instead relied upon the Defendant's expert in
accounting to shape orders of both child and interim spousal
support. Plaintiff appeals both awards.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
parties, Karl and Alanna Hensgens, were married in 2006. The
couple have three daughters. Karl filed a petition for
divorce on March 7, 2017, which was granted by a July 18,
2018 judgment of divorce. The judgment terminated the
community retroactive to the filing of the petition.
trial court thereafter considered ancillary matters,
including Alanna's request for child support and interim
spousal support. During a two-day hearing, the parties
presented expert testimony regarding Karl's income as a
rice and crawfish farmer in support of their positions
regarding issues of support. Karl relied on calculations
reflecting a negative income balance over a period of several
years due to difficulties experienced in that industry,
including the 2016 flood event. He explained that he had no
more liquid assets and referenced a lawsuit pending against
the couple due to failure to repay farming loans.
on the other hand presented expert testimony drawn, in part,
from the couple's income tax returns and which reported
funds available for support. As discussed in more detail
below, the parties differed on issues related to accounting
methodology as well as whether sources of income were
recurring and whether certain expenses were business related
for purposes of calculating support.
trial court ultimately rejected Karl's assertion that he
had negative income as estimated by his expert through use of
an accounting method that relied on income/expenses related
to the crop year. Citing La.R.S. 9:315(C)(3)(c), the trial
court instead favored Alanna's expert's use of cash
basis accounting and explained that choice in extensive
written reasons. As a result, the trial court ordered Karl to
pay $2, 897.70 per month in child support, a figure that
included agreed upon sums for private school tuition,
associated fees, and costs. The trial court further ordered
Karl to pay Alanna interim spousal support of $3, 085.00 per
appeals, asserting that the trial court erred in:
1. Failing to average the farm income over a period of time,
while basing his opinion upon the farm income of a single,
extremely atypical year.
2. Failing to reduce Karl's income by one-half of the
farm income for the 2017 crop year, which belonged to Alanna.
3. Failing to reduce Karl's income by one-half of the
government payments for the 2017 crop year, which belonged to
4. Failing to exclude, as income, the sale of farm equipment
and while including it failed to consider that one-half of
the proceeds belonged to Alanna.
5. Failing to reduce Karl's income and/or deviate from
the child support guidelines relative to the debt owed to the
Bank of Commerce as set forth in the lawsuit marked as
6. Failing to attribute one-half of the revenue from crop
sales, government payments and the sale of farm equipment to
advances numerous arguments regarding the trial court's
calculation of farming income for purposes of assessing
support obligations. Karl testified that the crawfish and
rice farming operation has been sustained each year by farm
loans and by government farming assistance. He explained,
however, that the operation "got behind" and
"was barely getting by" before the August 2016
flood "wiped out everything." He explained that the
flooding affected both rice and crawfish crops.
the Hensgens allegedly failed to pay several of their farm
loans, the lender, Bank of Commerce, filed suit against the
couple in July 2018. The Bank's petition cited a balance
due on promissory notes from March 2015 ($415, 800), April
2016 ($486, 750), and from August 2016 ($50, 065). This
difficult financial situation, Karl suggests, undermines the
trial court's determinations regarding his income for
purposes of support.
assessing Karl's gross income, the trial court
extensively referenced La.R.S. 9:315(C)(3)(c), which
(3) "Gross income" means:
. . . .
(c) Gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary expenses
required to produce income, for purposes of income from
self-employment, rent, royalties, proprietorship of a
business, or joint ownership or a partnership or closely held
corporation. "Ordinary and necessary expenses"
shall not include amounts allowable by the Internal Revenue
Service for the accelerated component of depreciation
expenses or investment tax credits or any other business
expenses determined by the court to be inappropriate for
determining gross income for purposes of calculating child
Id. (emphasis added).
statute, the trial court determined, was consistent with the
accounting method relied upon by Alanna's expert in
accounting, Chris Rainey, C.P.A. Mr. Rainey, who employed a
cash method of accounting, reviewed, in part, the
Hensgens' tax returns for 2016 and 2017 for insight into
the farm business's "gross receipts minus ordinary
and necessary expenses required to produce income" for
those years. With those income/expense figures provided by
the returns, Mr. Rainey explained that he made
"adjustments" to the return as required by La.R.S.
Rainey distinguished the cash basis method from the accrual
based accounting method advanced by Karl's expert, Steven
Soileau, C.P.A. Cash basis, Mr. Rainey explained, accounts
for income when it is received and not earned, whereas the
accrual basis accounts for when it is earned and not
received. The cash basis method also accounts for expenses as
they are actually paid. Mr. Rainey thus reasoned that the
former method better reflects income available for child
support on a year-to-year basis. Mr. Rainey's
calculations were ...