Tina M. Raap f/k/a Tina M. Lenton, Plaintiff and Appellee
Lance D. Lenton, Defendant and Appellant and State of North Dakota, Statutory Real Party in Interest and Appellee
from the District Court of Ward County, North Central
Judicial District, the Honorable Gary H. Lee, Judge.
Michael S. McIntee (argued), for plaintiff and appellee Tina
E. Pagel (argued), for defendant and appellant.
M. Heinrich (on brief), Special Assistant Attorney General,
P.O. Child Support Enforcement Unit, Statutory Real Party in
Interest and Appellee.
1] Lance Lenton appeals from the district court's amended
judgment increasing his child support obligation. We reverse
and remand to the district court to calculate Lenton's
child support obligation in accordance with the child support
2] Tina Raap and Lance Lenton divorced in January 2011. They
have one minor child. Lenton is a self-employed farmer. The
district court awarded Raap primary residential
responsibility of the child, and calculated Lenton's
child support obligation at $1, 458 per month. In the
original order for child support, the district court
considered Lenton's tax returns from 2005 to 2009 and
found that relying only on the information contained in the
five-year period of Lenton's tax returns was not
representative of Lenton's income, rebutting the
presumptively correct amount of his child support obligation.
Instead of using Lenton's tax returns, the district court
used a Farm Credit Service Statement and determined Lenton
held grain in storage that he could sell at any time for
profit, calculated the profit from the potential sale, and
used that amount to offset his farm losses to calculate his
child support obligation. Lenton appealed the 2011 judgment,
but did not challenge the district court's calculation of
his child support obligation in that action. See
Lenton v. Lenton, 2012 ND 4, 809 N.W.2d 833
(summarily affirming on the grounds the district court's
property distribution was not clearly erroneous).
3] In April 2015, Lenton requested review of his child
support obligation through the Minot Regional Support Unit.
The child support review conducted by the child support
agency resulted in a presumptive child support amount of $637
per month. To calculate this amount, the child support agency
relied on tax returns from 2012 to 2014, provided by Lenton.
The child support agency averaged Lenton's income over
this three-year period. The parties did not stipulate to
amending the child support obligation based on the child
support agency's determination. Consequently, the child
support agency moved the district court to amend its judgment
under N.D.C.C. § 14-09-08.8.  The district court held
an evidentiary hearing to determine Lenton's new child
support obligation. The district court found Lenton's tax
returns were not a reasonable representation of his income
from self-employment, and used a "Ratios &
Indicators" ("R & I") document to
calculate Lenton's net income. The district court entered
an amended judgment setting Lenton's child support
obligation at $2, 400 per month. Lenton appeals.
4] Lenton argues the district court's child support
calculation is clearly erroneous. Particularly, he argues the
district court erred when calculating his child support
obligation by not relying on his tax returns, erred by using
the R & I document instead of his tax returns, and erred
in considering rental and other income in addition to the R
& I document.
5] Our standard of review of an appeal from child support
determinations is well established:
Child support determinations involve questions of law which
are subject to the de novo standard of review, findings of
fact which are subject to the clearly erroneous standard of
review, and may, in some limited areas, be matters of
discretion subject to the abuse of discretion standard of
review. The district court errs as a matter of law if it
fails to comply with the child support guidelines in
determining an obligor's child support obligation.
Halberg v. Halberg, 2010 ND 20, ¶ 8, 777 N.W.2d
872 (quotation marks omitted) (citations omitted). In
Verhey v. McKenzie, we expressed the importance of
accurately calculating an obligor's net income under the