The plaintiff filed this action seeking a divorce from the defendant. The plaintiff eventually sought a change in custody of the parties' two minor children and permission
Factual and Procedural Background
According to the record, the plaintiff, Dawn Elizabeth Kent Collins, was married to the defendant, Geoffrey James Collins. The parties have two minor children together. Ms. Collins filed a petition for divorce in 2004 and the record indicates that a judgment granting the divorce was entered in 2005. The parties initially entered into a joint custody agreement. As part of that agreement, Dr. Collins agreed to pay $3,250.00 per month in child support, in addition to the children's insurance and private school tuition. However, after Ms. Collins remarried, she filed a motion for change of custody and permission to relocate from Lake Charles to Baton Rouge. After a lengthy trial, the trial court awarded the parties joint custody and granted Ms. Collins domiciliary status. The trial court also denied Ms. Collins' request for permission to relocate to Baton Rouge.
Thereafter, Dr. Collins filed a motion to reduce child support, contending that Ms. Collins was now employed and that the changed circumstances warranted a reduction in child support. A hearing officer conference was scheduled. The order scheduling the hearing officer conference directed the parties to provide, among other items, income and expense declarations and the last two years of state and federal income tax returns. The order also directed that,
According to Ms. Collins, Dr. Collins is a member of a closely-held medical practice and should have provided the relevant documents at the hearing officer conference. The hearing officer's recommendations from the initial hearing officer conference indicate that Dr. Collins had concerns about submitting the medical practice's tax documents because of his partners in the business. Therefore, Ms. Collins requested a hearing with the trial court on that issue. After a pre-trial conference, the trial court held that income and expense affidavits would not be necessary and that Dr. Collins would be required to provide two years of personal income tax returns, verified by his accountant, and two years of internal income statements from the medical practice. The trial court stated:
A subsequent hearing officer conference was held and the hearing officer recommended that Dr. Collins' child support obligation be reduced to $1,418.00 per month, plus the children's insurance and private school tuition. There is nothing in the
Ms. Collins now appeals, asserting as error that:
Income and Expense Documentation
Ms. Collins contends that the trial court erred in failing to require both parties to submit income and expense declarations and in not requiring Dr. Collins to provide documentation from his medical practice other than two years of internal profit and loss statements. According to Ms. Collins, the documentation provided was insufficient because it does not show whether money which may have been distributable as earnings were retained for capital investment.
Louisiana Revised Statutes 9:315.2(A) states that:
"Documentation is essential to the setting of child support." Bonnecarrere v. Bonnecarrere, 09-1647, p. 11 (La. App. 1 Cir. 4/14/10), 37 So.3d 1038, 1047, writ denied, 10-1639 (La.8/11/10), 42 So.3d 381. Remand is necessary where there is insufficient information and documentation in the record to make a child support recommendation under the guidelines. Id. However, remand is not required if some of the required documentation is lacking but there is sufficient other evidence in the record for the trial court to have determined the parties' gross monthly earnings and to render a child support award in accordance with the guidelines. Id. See
The record indicates that Dr. Collins submitted his personal tax returns for 2009 and 2010, including a W-2 for 2009. Dr. Collins also submitted detailed internal profit and loss statements from the medical clinic for 2009 and 2010. Ms. Collins submitted her W-2 for 2010. Neither party contends that Ms. Collins' W-2 is an inaccurate statement of her earnings. On the shared obligation worksheet, the hearing officer noted that Dr. Collins' income in 2010 was $458,774.00 and that Ms. Collins' income was $213,169.41. Based on those figures, the hearing officer calculated Dr. Collins' monthly gross income at $38,231.00 and Ms. Collins' monthly gross income as $17,764.00. Given that determination, our review of the record reveals that there is sufficient evidence in the record for the trial court to have determined the parties' gross monthly earnings.
Ms. Collins also complains that Dr. Collins' failure to provide, among other documentation, his business tax returns, check registers, bank statements for personal and business accounts, and business credit card statements is a violation of the local rules of court. However, we note that "[l]ocal rules of court are intended solely to aid in the orderly and efficient conduct of litigation and are not to be construed so literally as to defeat their intended purpose.... the trial court has great discretion in the construction, interpretation, application or enforcement of its own rules.'" Trahan v. State ex rel. Dept. of Health & Hosp., 04-743, p. 7 (La.App. 3 Cir. 11/10/04), 886 So.2d 1245, 1251 (quoting Miller v. Miller, 35,934, pp. 8-9 (La. App. 2 Cir. 5/8/02), 817 So.2d 1166, 1172, writ denied, 02-1890 (La.10/25/02), 827 So.2d 1154 (citation omitted)). Further, it is within the trial court's discretion to dispense with the strict application of local rules when they are unnecessary to the resolution of a dispute. Regions Bank v. Cabinet Works, L.L.C., 11-748 (La.App. 5 Cir. 4/10/12), 92 So.3d 945. As there was sufficient information in the record for the trial court to make a determination as to the parties' gross monthly income, as required by La.R.S. 9:315.2, we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court's interpretation and application of the local rules.
This assignment of error is without merit.
Calculation of Child Support
Ms. Collins also contends that the trial court erred in reducing Dr. Collins' child support payment from $3,250.00 per month to $1,418.00 per month. Specifically, Ms. Collins contends that, because the parties' gross monthly income is "off the chart," the trial court erred in extrapolating the child support award from the guidelines and in not considering the needs and lifestyle of the children.
The amount of child support is determined by the guidelines delineated in La. R.S. 9:315 — 9:315.20. Pursuant to La.R.S. 9:315.13(B),
In his motion for a reduction in child support, Dr. Collins alleges that there was a change in circumstances because Ms. Collins had been unemployed at the time of the initial child support stipulation and had obtained employment since then. Ms. Collins does not dispute this allegation or that there was a change in circumstances. The hearing officer's recommendation and a shared obligation worksheet are included as part of the record. The hearing officer determined that Dr. Collins' child support obligation was $3,597.00 and that Ms. Collins' child support obligation was $2,179.00. Accordingly, applying the calculations provided in La.R.S. 9:315.9 and subtracting Ms. Collins' child support obligation from Dr. Collins' child support obligation,
Ms. Collins relies on Preis, 631 So.2d 1349, for the proposition that the trial court erred in determining child support where the parties' income is greater than that listed in the guidelines and there is no evidence concerning the current needs of the Collinses' two sons. However, although the record is slim concerning the hearing officer conference, the shared obligation worksheet indicates that information concerning the children's private school tuition and health insurance premiums was available to the hearing officer. Further, the trial court conducted a lengthy custody hearing several months before Dr. Collins filed his motion to reduce child support. The trial court issued fifty-nine pages of written reasons in making a custody determination. Accordingly, the record shows that the trial court was
The abuse of discretion standard is highly deferential to the trial court's determination of an award of child support. See Dejoie v. Guidry, 10-1542 (La.App. 4 Cir. 7/13/11), 71 So.3d 1111. As required by La.R.S. 9:315.13(B)(1), the trial court's award is not lower than the highest amount found in La.R.S. 9:315.19.
This assignment of error is without merit.
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the trial court's judgment reducing Geoffrey Kent Collins' child support obligation. Costs of this appeal are allocated to the plaintiff, Dawn Elizabeth Kent Collins.
In this case, the custody hearing was conducted several months before the motion to reduce child support was filed. Further, the motion to reduce child support is not based on the assertion that one of the children has reached the age of majority.